Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

At work, I recently took the CliftonStrengths (Strength Finders 2.0) assessment to discover my strengths-based profile. I’ve written other similiar tests before, such as Insights Discovery, MBTI, and DISC. I have to be honest and admit that I’m a little skeptical about the accuracy of these tests and their ability to fully capture the complexities and nuances of human personality. Nevertheless, my test results seem to coincide to a significant degree, so perhaps there’s some value after all.

I thought it’d be interesting to look at the results and see how they correlate to my spiritual gifting, and where my strengths could be used in kingdom service.

Cliftton 34 Themes

As you can see, my top 10 strengths cluster in 2 domain areas:

Strengths Distribution   

That my top 10 strengths are predominantly in Strategic Thinking and Relationship Building is not too surprising, especially at this stage in my life. I definitely embrace a holistic and systems thinking approach, whether I’m teaching a Bible study, analyzing our church’s current state of affairs, or planning an event. This causes no end of frustration for me when dealing with people whose perspective is myopic and fragmentary. But, I am reminded that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”, so it’s a good thing I have also learned the importance of building strong relationships. Indeed, my favourite Bible verse is: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35; CSB).

It was instructive to read about each theme and how I might make use of them; here are some of the things that jumped out at me in looking at my top 5:



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The Weight of Wait

By nature, I am a problem solver. However, I’ve had to learn again and again, especially in this season of change, that I need to wait. The burden, מַשָּׂא, of the needs all around me weigh heavy upon my heart, and my natural inclination is to rush out to meet those needs. However, there are often obstacles, especially when the problems are structural and systemic.

There seems to be some frantic and frenetic busyness born out of impatience or insecurity. There are fences of fear that seek to contain and constrain; there are gatekeepers and guardians. Thus shut out, I am reminded that I need to let go of my desire (however well-intentioned) to rush in and fix the problems, even though it is hard to silence the prophetic impulse to speak into the situation.

If we are wise enough to pay attention to the quieter voice,
it might sound something like this:


These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

– David Whyte


I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “East Coker III”


Solitude. Silence.

Be still my soul.

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Humble Leadership

Father and son have teamed up to write this newly released book on leadership. I have enjoyed reading Edgar’s previous books (see here for example), so it was with much anticipation that I began reading this one. The verdict? So far, so good. Nothing revolutionary as such, but nevertheless, a compelling reminder for all who assume leadership roles.

They begin the book by claiming that “leadership is always a relationship, and truly successful leadership thrives in a group culture of high openness and high trust. ” With this in mind, they note that traditional twentieth-century culture of management can be described as a transactional set of relationships among designated roles that unwittingly creates conditions of low openness and low trust and can, therefore, make truly effective leadership difficult.” They go on to paint two different pictures; on the one hand:

The good news: employee engagement, empowerment, organizational agility, ambidexterity, innovation . . . all of this can flourish in the rapidly changing world when the fundamental relationship between leaders and followers, helpers and clients, and providers and customers becomes more personalized and cooperative. (emphasis mine)

On the other hand:

The bad news: continued deception, scandals, high turnover of disengaged talent, safety and quality problems in industry and health care, all the way to corruption and abuse of power at the highest levels of industry and politics, driven by financial expediency and the obsession with retaining power as primary success criteria . . . all of this will continue to happen as long as leader-follower relationships remain impersonal, transactional, and based on the roles and rules that have evolved in the current culture of management that still predominates in our hierarchical bureaucratic organizations. (emphasis mine)

It is not hard at all to think of examples of leaders who are obesessed with “retaining power” and who do not see the advantages of a “more personalized and cooperative” relationship with their followers. Furthermore, they would be unlikely to agree that “[l]eadership can come from group members as often as from designated or appointed leaders” since they can’t distinguish between what I’ll call formal and fixed leadership vs. functional and fluid leadership. Otto Scharmer in his recent book, The Essentials of Theory U, argues that the

problem with leadership today is that most people think of it as being made up of individuals, with one person at the top. But if we see leadership as the capacity of a system to co-sense and co-shape the future, then we realize that all leadership is distributed—it needs to include everyoneTo develop collective capacity, everyone must act as a steward for the larger eco-system.” (emphasis mine)

Edgar and Peter assert that their focus is “not on the individual and the desired characteristics of that emergent leader, but on the relationships that develop between that person and the potential followers”. They note that these potential followers will always be part of a team, so their “focus will also be on the relationships between them” and as such, “group dynamics and group processes will always be intimately involved with leadership.” Consequently, understanding, navigating and managing the relational dynamics are vitally important skills that a leader needs to develop. To this end, the Scheins propose a continuum of relationship levels:

  • Level –1: Total impersonal domination and coercion
  • Level 1: Transactional role and rule-based supervision, service, and most forms of “professional” helping relationships
  • Level 2: Personal cooperative, trusting relationships as in friendships and in effective teams
  • Level 3: Emotionally intimate total mutual commitments

They argue that in our fast-changing and interconnected world, we need a new model of leadership “based on more personal Level 2, and sometimes even Level 3, relationships and group processes.” The rest of the book gives several examples of how various organizations have transformed their leadership approaches based on this new model, as well as how to handle the concomitant challenges.

I will blog more about the book when I am finished reading it.

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In a recent McKinsey blog post, the author writes: “Disruptive times call for transformational leaders to let go and become more complex themselves to navigate effectively.” He goes on to say that leaders must be more agile and more complex by “building a bigger inner self so complexity feels simpler and allows us to move with greater purpose, clarity, inner calm and impact.”  He suggests several practices that can help in this regard:

  1. Pause to move faster. Pausing while remaining engaged in action is a counterintuitive step that leaders can use to create space for clear judgment; original thinking; and speedy, purposeful action.
  2. Embrace your ignorance. Good, fresh ideas can come from anywhere … listening—and thinking—from a place of not knowing is a critical means of encouraging the discovery of original, unexpected, breakthrough ideas.
  3. Radically reframe the questions. One way to discern the complex patterns that give rise to both problems and windows of emergent possibilities is to change the nature of the questions we ask ourselves. Asking yourself challenging questions may help unblock your existing mental model.
  4. Set direction, not destination. In our complex systems and in this complex era, solutions are rarely straightforward. Instead of telling your team to move from point A to point B, join them in a journey toward an image of the future that sparks inspiration. Lead yourself and your team with purposeful vision, not just achievements.
  5. Test your solutions – and yourself. Quick, cheap failures can avert major, costly disasters.

Such practices might also be helpful in an ecclesial context as well: what do you think?

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In the course of searching for videos featuring Julie Canlis, whom I was introduced to through her outstanding book, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, I stumbled across this wonderful video, Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known, about her husband Matt and his odyssey of learning how to slow down. We hear him confess at the start of the video, “I’ve been running most of my life, running through life to get somewhere else. But the thing about running is that you miss things, many things. And if I kept running, I was going to miss everything.”

Watch video

And then Matt went on to divulge: “When I was running it was easy to stay hidden to avoid being unknown. One professor knew this—Eugene Peterson. He said, Matt, if you want to be a pastor, go find a parish, go find a fishbowl where you can’t escape being known and where you lose the fear of being known.

“I think what I realized is that nobody in America gets listened to very much,” notes Peterson, who told Matt if he wanted to really wanted to walk like Jesus, he had to leave America.  As things turned out, Matt and Julie were invited to study in St Andrews, Scotland. “That’s when everything began to change …” and the video chronicles his journey of learning how to walk instead of running.

Upon arriving in a small village in Scotland, Matt “learned that I wasn’t there to give people the the good news, I was there to be a part of their lives … I ended up learning more about them and they about me than me communicating the truth they needed to hear.” Eugene Peterson observes that “People are not used to being intimate in any verbal way, there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear …”

For me personally, I actually yearn to be known, to love and to be loved. But everyone else is running and they have little time for me to know and love them, let alone they wanting to know and love me. This is sadly true in our programmed, consumerist religious offering we call church. What I long for is Slow Church, where we gather to share our stories, a meal, our lives. O God, when shall this aching void be filled?

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Today, I am at home sitting and reflecting. If I was a good Christian, I would be at church. But today, something deep inside me is gnawing away; my heart is heavy—weighed down with disappointments, disconnection, disillusionment. How vast the distance and dissonance between my head and my heart!

What I find discouraging is how little time we make for each other, and sadly, this is even true for those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. Which is strange, given that Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples. As Eugene Peterson reminds us, “spirituality has to do with life, lived life”, and yet, how little our lives intersect with each other. For most Christians, going to church on Sunday to receive a dose of spiritual nourishment is their primary idea of what the Christian life entails. Sigh.

Peterson acknowledges that preaching and teaching are not to be discounted, but avers:

… there are other ways of using words that are just as important, if not as conspicuous: questions and conversations, comments and ruminations, counsel and suggestion. It is a quieter use of language and mostly takes place in times and places that are not set apart for religious discourse. It often conveys as much in what is not said as in what is … But conversation, as such, though honored by our ancestors, is much neglected today as a form of Christian discourse. If we are to be in touch with all the parts of our lives and all the dimensions of the Gospel, conversation requires equal billing (although not equal authority) with preaching and teaching. (The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends, pp. 19-21)

I would venture to say that conversations can carry equal authority as preaching and teaching, albeit in a different sense. After all, preaching and teaching are not the only forms of “Word ministries” that the Bible speaks of:

Preaching is not the only ministry of the word envisaged or mandated by Scripture. To isolate preaching from other ministries of the word or to claim that it is the sole ministry of the word is ‘to make preaching carry a load which it cannot bear …

… the New Testament expect[s] … all believers to be engaged in word-based ministries of encouragement and discipleship within the church family.

[There is a] close affinity and integral interrelationship between preaching and other ministries of the word.

Jonathan Griffiths, Preaching in the New Testament (NSBT 42); IVP, 2017.

WANTED: spiritual friends and conversation partners for the journey!

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I recently and gratefully stumbled across Fathom, a new online magazine. In particular, I deeply resonate with their vision:

Fathom wants to sink deeply into the Christian faith. And we think curiosity and conversation are just the things to draw us into the depths. We ask questions, express wonder, linger over ideas, listen to opinions, and hear people’s stories.

Indeed, curiosity is the theme of the inaugural issue and in the lead article Beautifully Unsatisfied, Brandon Giella writes:

At Fathom, we want to listen. We want to listen to you who agrees, to you who disagrees, and to you who are “very different from us, who say things we don’t get and believe things we don’t understand,” because this is a trustworthy space “for us to get curious in an attempt to understand.” This is a place of conversation, of both listening and responding.

Shouldn’t this describe our church gatherings? A space/place of “both listening and responding”? And yet, most Christians would rather seek refuge in certainty and answers without the process of exploring the questions and being open and curious to the possibilities. Of course, there is a time for settling on some answers, however tentative or tenuous, but we shouldn’t rush the process:

We want to be a place where we can get lost in the cave together, but not forever. An open mind is the same as an open mouth—it’s meant to close on some things.

We want to ask questions and find answers. Though we may not find much—many questions don’t have answers—the swimming is as important as the finding.

Let’s go “swimming”!

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