Tag Archives: Ministry

Quick Review: Unoffendable

On our family drive to Colorado recently I read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.  

I was drawn to read it because the summary fits the general realm of self-differentiation that I enjoy looking at, but also because it had potential relevance to some of the shame and conflict research I’ve been working on this past year.

This turned out to be a more “popular Christian” book than I expected, but it wasn’t all bad in that regard as there were some unexpected nuggets in parts of the book that did not fit my expectations. The book is written by a guy who works in Christian radio. That fact might have scared me off before I read the book, but turned out to add some fascinating insights.

The premise is clear – giving up the right to be angry makes all the difference in relationships, leadership, ministry, and all of life. The author unpacks how a lot of people spiritualize anger, especially toxic anger under the vernacular as “righteous anger.” This was the most important part of the book – a prophetic word to angry Christians about how their anger is not righteous, but self-serving.

I expected most of the book to relate to conflict, but there was helpful exploration of how anger and “offendability” impacts evangelism and many other things, including a good discussion about dying to anger as it relates to forgiveness.

An interesting discussion is to compare/contrast this book with Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent, which speaks to some measure of righteous anger as a fuel for passion.  Hanson argues pretty clearly that anger has no place in motivation for justice because our motivation is love.  Jeff VanVonderan in Families Where Grace is in Place (which I am reading now) has a really helpful chapter where he unpacks a discussion on anger which echoes some of Hanson’s arguments but frames a more robust argument around the original Greek language used for “anger.” There are different words and concepts.  VanVonderan offers the most satisfying explanation of the verse “Be angry, but do not sin….”  Hanson though includes great insight that justice work need not be driven by anger and how research shows the most outraged and offended are often those who do least to be part of the solution.

I had not thought much of what it would be like to work in Christian radio because I don’t listen to Christian radio. But what a sad and sobering picture to hear what kind of stuff Christian radio folk personnel have to deal with. It’s not shocking actually, but what a mirror to the heart conditions of many Christians – the legalistic, the spiritualizers, and especially the Christian watchdogs that feel like it’s their responsibility to correct or judge every person or action they disapprove of or disagree with (including matters of doctrine).

I’ve found many popular Christian books cover the same ground – not judging, forgiving, building relationships, grace, general gospel overview, and more.  They also just tend to use a different lens to share a vision of what life with Christ can or should be.  The particular lens in this issue is the idea of “unoffendability” and dying to anger in all its forms.

To summarize – I like the concept of “unoffendability” and appreciated some of the more prophetic challenges this book includes even though I may quibble with some of the arguments or statements at points.  But – I like the lens of unoffendability because it’s true that offendability, outrage, and anger are to be the exact opposite of what the church is known for, yet it’s another area where the church seems to often look exactly like the world.

 

 

Quick Review: Strong and Weak

One of the richest and most practically helpful book I’ve read this year is Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak.  It’s the third book I’ve read by Crouch this year and all three form together what I would describe to be a trilogy related to a theology and practice of image bearing. You can see some of my thoughts on the 1st of these books Culture Making here or the more recent Playing God here.

Strong and Weak is roughly an extension of Playing God.  Playing God  is a more in depth look at power and privilege. Strong and Weak continues that, but Crouch introduces a framework for understanding social ethics, relationships, and authority among other things.  This allows for a really clear conceptual understanding of much of what he unpacks in Playing God.

Crouch builds his book around a 2 x 2 chart. The X axis is represented by the concept of vulnerability, while the Y axis is represented by the concept of authority. Crouch draws from the first couple chapters of Genesis these two significant aspects of what it means to be an image bearer. Having the authority and ability to take meaningful action on one hand, and having the posture of vulnerability and risk on the other.

In the chart there are 4 quadrants, which Crouch describes as flourishing (high authority, high vulnerability), suffering or poverty (low authority, high vulnerability), withdrawal or apathy (low authority, low vulnerability) and exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability).  The book is organized around these quadrants and their implications for relationships, community, and even leadership as well.

The simple 2 x 2 chart provides a really helpful framework to understand some really complex dynamics as well as the powerful and countercultural implications of gospel action through people in different quadrants.  It provides a helpful way of understanding servant leadership, empowerment, social responsibility, and community development all in one.

This book is about 150 pages or so, very readable. I highly recommend you read this – it has something for everyone and it serves as an incredible teaching tool to help people understand how to look at the importance of both authority and vulnerability – which cover a surprising amount of the issues leaders have in negotiating the social realities of their contexts.

This is an important and helpful resource that should help people think more theologically and responsibly about the dynamic relationship between authority and human relationships.  I really encourage you to find time to read it.

 

Quick Review: How People Change

A couple months ago I read  How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane. I’ve already used some parts of the book in my mentoring and small group work and plan on integrating some of the content into one of my classes in the upcoming term.

There’s several books or models of change or growth out there. Many Christians prefer Tripp and Lane’s work because it’s firmly grounded in Scripture and is focused on personal sanctification.  That’s why I like this book and their Relationships:  A Mess Worth Making, which I use in my Interpersonal Relationships course.

The strength of the book is the model which ties personal sanctification and behavior change to the Biblical themes of eternal hope, being married to Christ, and Christian community and body life.  They provide a framework that helps people evaluate how circumstances trigger behavior – either good or bad.  But what separates the model is that they use Scripture to push people the extra step into the heart areas and idolatry that lies at the foundation of the bad behavior.  They focus on both the root and the fruit of behavior.

I found a link to a summary article of the book which is a great small group tool and not too long. The link is:  https://www.ccef.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/archive/sites/default/files/2302015_0.pdf

Sometimes I hear people compare Tripp and Lane’s worth with Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s.  I see them doing different things and so I have often been using resources from both.  Tripp and Lane present a model and foundation for personal sanctification and interpersonal and spiritual maturity.  Cloud and Townsend tend to focus on human and personal development.  Sometimes there’s a lot of overlap there, but they are different enough to where it’s important to understand what the resources are meant and not meant to do.

There’s a lot pertaining to growth and development that Tripp and Lane do not attempt to cover.  I similarly do not see Cloud and Townsend offering a comprehensive model of sanctification or Spirit filled living.  I think there’s a lot of potential to use the strengths of both to do holistic and Biblical based training that impacts Spirit-filled living and character transformation with human growth and development that reflects the overall narrative of Scripture.

I found this book to be a great resource and a help personally and for me as I mentor individuals and small groups. I recommend it and I’ve noticed that around once a year it’s offered free or for a couple dollars on amazon as an e-book so keep a look out 🙂

 

Quick Review: Culture Making

I recently finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the book. I had been wanting to get to it for quite a while and some of the discussions I’ve been in recently related to ministry and education gave me cause to finally dive in.

Essentially the book presents a theology and practice of creative stewardship and work. After an exploration into what “culture” is and how it works, there is an analysis of the many ways people engage culture.  The most common expressions of how Christians engage culture are noted as condemning culture, consuming culture, critiquing culture, or copying culture.  There are some similarities to some of the categories offered by Reinhold Niebuhr as well as to more recent work by Tim Keller. But Crouch’s focus is primarily on culture as it relates to creativity and calling (thus the title) as opposed to a full-blown theology and practice of cultural engagement that includes political and social engagement. The term cultural engagement doesn’t really even capture Crouch’s thrust – he focuses rather on “culture-making” instead.

Crouch, drawing on Genesis and the Scriptures, argues for two other paradigms that are more “Biblical” in nature.  He names creating culture and cultivating culture as the two approaches to culture that are often overlooked by Christians, but that provide the greatest redemptive contribution to God’s purposes in restoring the world.  He uses the metaphors “artists and gardeners” to illustrate what is involved.  Cultivating refers to the work of stewarding the best of what humanity is and has created while creating obviously refers to the effort given to bring dreams into reality for the sake serving mankind and glorifying God.

I found the discussion incredibly helpful and enjoyable, especially because creativity and cultivation have long been overlooked. Creativity has had its champions, but I was intrigued by the role of “gardeners” in the church and in the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking about this and feel like it is a neglected aspect of the church’s engagement with culture.  Maybe the historian in me is drawn to the idea, but it feels significant to me.

There’s a lot more in the book including content related to power and other topics that are of interest, but the thrust of the book is above – helping people understand the many ways they navigate culture and to consider that the best way to impact society for good and for God is through the creation of new cultural goods. The argument being that bad or insufficient culture isn’t transformed until something better comes along to replace it. One of the incisive criticisms Crouch levies at the church is noting how most efforts to bring Christian worldview to the table in relation to culture stops in the realm of critiquing culture, falling well short of creating culture.

My final note is that Crouch gives an insight in his introduction that really stuck with me. He notes the popular maxim, “Pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on you.” I’ve always understood the kernel of truth here and the call to diligent stewardship exercised in dependence on the Lord, but something never fully felt satisfying to me.  Crouch critiques the application of this phrase, affirming that we need to learn to work as if it all does depend on God – because it does. Stewardship is implied, but the freedom of exploring vocation in the guidance of the Holy Spirit opens doors for creativity and inspiration.

I think this book gives a lot to chew on – not every person may be gifted or inspired to be a creator or a cultivator, but these are elements that every community would be wise to nurture for the sake of both worship and mission.

 

Quick Review: The 3D Gospel – Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

I recently finished The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jason Georges. This had been on my list for over a year since reading The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke last year and attending Mischke’s online webinar hosted by mission nexus.

This is a fairly brief (less than a 100 pages) primer on how to see the full range and impact of the gospel as expressed in different cultural contexts.  Georges uses the metaphor of a multifaceted diamond that reflects the same essence in different ways.  I actually appreciated the diamond metaphor as it provided a more holistic and integrated approach to the discussion about guilt, shame, and fear which sometimes degenerates into either/or application.

The book gives a great, user friendly intro to the discussion and unpacks the correlation between the gospel, culture, and ministry application.   For each of the 3 main culture  (guilt/innocence, shame/honor, fear/power), Georges provides a succinct summary of the salvation narrative through each of those thematic areas of focus, followed by the core ministry approach that may be the most appropriate expression of ministry for that culture.

The connections between culture, the gospel, and ministry expressions is really helpful as it helps one begin to think about contextualization and integration of the gospel into a specific context in specific ways.  I’m very encouraged that more and more are providing practical and theologically grounded efforts at contextualization in light of these common themes in different cultures.  It may not make since to many who have not experienced much beyond their native culture and context, but these perspectives and efforts to provide real tools for ministry are incredibly valuable.

Because of the brevity and and clarity to this book, I really am motivated to find ways to use this in my ministry and leadership training.  There is potential application beyond evangelism and discipleship to other aspects of ministry and leadership development that excite me, but it serves as a great intro and primer to how to think about contextualization in non-western contexts so I highly recommend this as a resource.

 

New Article: Stewardship and Results-Based Leadership

Stewardship and results is an area where most leaders typically can really benefit from sound grounding as well as development.

I’m teaching a course on Strategic Planning and Organizational Leadership right now.  In my preparation I found something I had written several years ago and thought it would help fill one of the content needs of the course so I updated some things and am releasing this brief, 4 page article on Stewardship and Results-Based Leadership for Christian ministry leaders.

Feel free to read online or download the article for later.

Quick Review: Holy Conversations

A year ago I read Holy Conversations:  Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle & Alice Mann but recently re-read it in preparation for teaching a Strategic Planning class.  I have used this as a text book two years in a row because of some of the unique perspectives that it offers and it was one of the few resources that I found that most captured some of my own personal theology and philosophy of planning.

There are more technical, more strategic, and more business oriented strategic planning books out there, even for ministry organizations.  One of the key tenets of this book is that for churches and ministries, planning is a spiritual process.  It’s a means to a clear spiritually led vision.  But its the means that is deeply spiritual as well – and that is what separates the authors’ approach to planning from much of what typical churches and ministries do.

The idea of “Holy Conversations” speaks to the process of planning as a process and product of community discernment in the context of a God given vision.  That is a powerful dimension to the planning process – seeing it as a structured way of allowing everyone to contribute to and share in a meaningful and collaborative effort to a God given mission.  The authors emphasis “Discernment” as the key task of leaders and spiritual communities and illustrate how discernment can be facilitated and explored at different stages of the planning process.  I really like this emphasis because it puts an onus on wisdom and not linear task achievement.

There still is a lot of content in here that is church-centric like many other church oriented planning resources – so plenty of content related to dealing with church boards and the like.  That’s great for pastors and those for who the shoe fits.  So not everything in the book may be relevant, but there is a good foundation for helping develop a more holistic and community driven  approach to planning that honors both God, the church or ministry, and those that are being served by the ministry.

So if strategic planning has become stale, too task driven, and if organizational leadership has lost meaning – I think this could be a helpful resource to refresh your vision and attitude towards the planning process.  There are many out there that hate planning because they hate meetings – in part because it’s detail oriented and lacks meaning.  But the planning process can be a structured journey of community spiritual formation and leadership development such that everyone experiences the journey in a very meaningful way – both individually and corporately.

 

 

 

 

 

Identity & Holistic Coaching

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Multi Ethnic Learnings

As I continue to share some of the things I learned through my experience serving cross-culturally and in multi-ethnic contexts, many of the posts I share will directly or indirectly point to a theme that really is central to effective ministry and leadership development – identity.

Similar to what I shared in my previous post on the problem of paternalism, prior to my experiences doing leadership development in an ethnic minority ministry context I didn’t think much about identity.  Prior to that I had only really thought about identity through the lens of what some call “positional truths.”  These are those truths in the Bible about a believer’s identity in Christ.  My experience cross-culturally took me deeper into those positional truths and their significance for cross-cultural peace and reconciliation and unity.  However, my experience also took me to a broader and more holistic understanding of identity and its significance in discipleship, leadership development, and culture shaping.

My previously narrow understanding of identity I believe stems in part from the dynamics of being part of the majority culture. As I mostly have fit in culturally and have not often been in environments that raised the question for me about whether I belong culturally or not, this arena  existed for quite a while outside of my consciousness.  But some of that also stems from being exposed to perhaps overly propositional approaches to meaning making by my faith tradition.  But through my multi-ethnic and cross-cultural journey, identity has grown to become a central component of my leadership development philosophy and theology. Identity is always being lived out and formed. It’s dynamic. Some things are fixed, some things are dynamically changing.

Several years ago this espn cover really powerfully communicated the complex nature of identity – both in terms of how we see ourselves and how others may perceive us.

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Leadership and community ethics really get to the heart of identity – it’s how we express and treat the image of God in ourselves and one another. It includes how we shape others and how others have shaped us. It’s how we understand what distinguishes us from others as well as what binds us together.

But while many like me minimize or are ignorant to the importance of identity in life, leadership, and ministry – identity is a larger or more central journey for people who have straddled multiple cultures or worlds. A word for living in this type of cultural reality is liminality – living in between when you don’t fully belong to one side or another but much of your identity and meaning lies in the tension and the in between.  We have raised our family the last couple of years in the Philippines and have watched first hand the identity journey our kids are on. They are already asking more questions related to identity than I ever did at their ages.

Beyond liminality – any oppressed people group will be aware of and wrestle more with identity because that’s part of the journey we must take to make sense of our experience.  The question of who we are for some is a more complicated one because their identity in the context of their ethnicity and uniqueness has not always been celebrated or affirmed. Most conscientious people today  will ask the questions at some point – why is this happening and what does it say about who I am? Some are forced to grow up asking these questions very early on while some, as a result of their circumstances, may not ask those questions until later in life, if ever.

It’s also important to highlight here that identity is important because ethnic minority stories are very different and people are on different journeys at different paces in different contexts. There has to be a commitment to learning who individuals are within their communities to free us up from unhelpful assumptions and stereotyping. When I paint groups of people with a broad brush I tend to get myself into trouble. Generalizations aren’t always bad, but when they become labels and things that we are projecting onto people, when they might not be true or representative of them then we have crossed a line.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this season of ministry was about the importance of listening to and paying attention to how people see and express themselves as a window into their identity journey.  Only through learning and listening can one truly come alongside in an affirming and empowering way – and when we see and affirm people’s identity, who God has made them, I’ve seen how incredibly empowering that can be.

As a practical note – this is why ministry efforts anchored in transferability of methodology has limits to its effectiveness.  What can be effective in one context can be ineffective somewhere else and furthermore it could even be unethical!  The degree to which we can see the difference is a reflection of our capacity to see and understand the power of identity in an individual and culture.

A few years ago I co-wrote this brief post on identity with my friend Adrian as a cornerstone of our philosophy of leadership development for Epic Movement.  As an additional resource, here is a team building exercise designed by friends of mine to surface themes of identity and stimulate conversation.

Nothing May Be Better Than Something

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Multi Ethnic Learnings

 

In a multi-ethnic context,

“Nothing May Be Better Than Something”

In a pragmatic world, this statement is anathema.  But in the absence of knowing how to truly serve a different community, demographic, or group of people, I’ve learned over the last decade that sometimes it is better to wait until you have done your homework before doing something that may do more damage than good.  And by “better” I mean more loving, more honoring, more wise, and more humble.  And sometimes doing nothing requires greater faith than taking action.

By doing nothing I’m not talking about being controlled by fear.  I’m talking about having a healthy capacity of self-control and restraint both personally and organizationally in order to ensure truly serving actions.  The alternative is jumping in blind assuming that something is better than nothing. That’s the justification I’ve heard more than a few times before launching in unprepared to a different type of context and ministry.  I’ve had that justification myself when I’ve anxiously wanted to feel “useful” or want to see things happen.  When this is our defense for our action, we should take a breath and think twice. Maybe something is better than nothing.  Often it is and that’s what pioneering is all about! But sometimes it’s not when attitudes and methodology aren’t appropriate to the situation.

It’s worth making a distinction here between grass roots ministry and organizational functioning.  While humility and learning is necessary in all contexts, failure in grass roots situations is necessary to a risk taking, faith-filled, and innovative growth. This learning point relates primarily to organizational life, functioning, and partnerships. There are times where it would be better if we just listened and learned and didn’t take action – for trying to do something frequently undermines the listening and learning.  “Doing something” needs just as much listening and learning as doing.  If that posture isn’t there, best holster the ambition for impact until it is.

There was a blog I read over a year ago, shortly after I first wrote this, on this general idea that I thought captured exactly what I have learned here and it was called “The Grace to Do Nothing” by David Fitch. It’s worth reading at some point: http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/the-grace-to-do-nothing-on-social-justice-in-the-neighborhood/

Do you have the grace to do nothing sometimes?

How do you resist the temptation to act too fast when it can lead to damaging others and trust building efforts in community?