Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Calm Down!

Much ink has been spilt over the fury and furor surrounding Brexit. In one of the more sober reflections I’ve read, the author writes:

We are likely to soon know whether it will be a catastrophe, a liberation or something in between. The biggest problem right now is that we, as a nation, are not in remotely the right frame of mind to address and adapt to the changes that will soon be coming our way.

So, please, Brits, calm down about Brexit. Calming down isn’t only a virtuous stance, but a practical one. We need to get through this and that will require addressing issues that arise calmly and with proportionate action.

We have a tough road ahead and none of us really knows where it will lead. We need less polarisation and more pragmatism, less hyperbolic zealotry and more keeping calm and carrying on. We will need to stiffen our upper lips, put the kettle on, and deal with it. Most of all, we need to calm the [f**k] down.

Perhaps this is a salutary reminder to keep calm in the midst of our ecclesiastical conflicts.

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Our church has been going through 1 Thessalonians as a sermon series for the Fall, and my bible study class decided to undergo the same journey (though we are 1 week behind). To be honest, I’m glad we are doing so, because frankly, the constraints of a sermon means that much is left unsaid on the passage, or given only a cursory treatment at best (especially if the preaching is not expository). In studying 1 Thessalonians for myself, I am struck by how we fall short of Paul’s approach to discipleship: for Paul, it is not just about the message we proclaim with our lips but also the practice of our lives that matter.

Paul writes: “You know how we lived [ἐγενήθημεν] among you for your benefit … and you yourselves became [ἐγενήθητε] imitators of us and of the Lord … As a result, you became [γενέσθαι] an example [“model”, NIV] to all the believers …” (1:5b-7; CSB). Notice how Paul can confidently assert that the Thessalonians knew his and his co-workers’ manner of life (“You know”) when he was with them. Indeed, he repeatedly emphasizes that his Thessalonian converts can testify to his manner of life when he was with them:

“You know how we lived among you” (1:5b; CSB)
“For you yourselves know … as you know” (2:1,2)
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers.” (2:10)

Wherein lay Paul’s confidence?  According to the apostle, it’s “because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1:5a; CEB), or, taking the καὶ explicatively:

because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech
but also with power; that is,
in the Holy Spirit
and persuasively

That is to say, not only did the Spirit empower Paul to expound the gospel, but the Spirit also enabled Paul to embody the gospel, which convicted/persuaded the Thessalonians to embrace the gospel, i.e., they stopped worshiping idols and began serving the living and true God” (1:9; NCV). What about us?  Are we living out the gospel in our lives? It’s not about being religious or a nice person, but embodily expressing a cruiformic pattern of life in allegiance/faithfulness [πίστις, 1:8] to Jesus as Lord and King (over against Caesar).

Later in his epistle, Paul assures the Thessalonians that he is “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (2:4a; CSB); to be entrusted with the gospel means being faithful to its message, its meaning and its mode of expressing it (more on this in our next post when we look at 2:3–6). Paul did not compromise his integrity or his fidelity to the εὐαγγέλιον for the sake of numbers or making the message more palatable to his audience. So, with his integrity intact, Paul truly embodies the gospel, and hence, on behalf of his apostolic co-workers, he can “offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thess. 3:9; NIV).

Let us choose, however, from among the living, not men who pour forth their words with the greatest glibness, …not these, I say, but men who teach us by their lives, men who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it by practice …
—Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius; Letter 52: “On Choosing our Teachers”

In particular, as a challenge to those of you are who are called to shepherd the flock that Jesus died for and entrusted to your care: are you a faithful model to the sheep?

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… an individual, working alone, is unable to satisfy today’s mix of personal, organizational, and global demands. Today, leaders at every level make choices to set aside personal ego and control, trust in their teams and talent, and better influence and direct others to achieve the desired needs of unique organizational systems.

– Wade A. McNair, LeadAbility: Transforming the Way We Live and Work Together

In the context I am thinking of, we are lacking in LeadAbility because of Conflict and Competition, in place of Cooperation and Collaboration. What’s missing is Truth and Trust.

The author closes his book with this pledge:

A Better Leader Pledge

I will be better today
than I was yesterday.
I will be better tomorrow
than I am today.

Every day I will choose to
Live Wholeheartedly,
Learn Continuously, and
Lead Courageously.

As a result, I will better my own life,
the lives of those around me,
and the world we live in.

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Beholding His Beauty

Sam Storms relates a life changing experience he had while reading Jonathan Edwards on the glory of God. Ho hum, you may say. After all, we casually use the cliché about doing everything for God’s glory all the time. Storms notes that, “for many of these same people, ‘glorifying God’ is an empty shell. Ask them to describe what it means and you’re likely to get a blank and embarrassed stare. … Glorifying God has become something of a mantra in the evangelical world.”  He goes on to ask, “How is he most glorified in us? Where and in what way is God’s glory most clearly revealed?” and then gives us his answer:

I believe the consistent answer of Scripture is that God is most glorified in us when our knowledge and experience of him ignite a forest fire of joy that consumes all competing pleasures and he alone becomes the treasure that we prize.

One Thing

Few there be however, that have thought as deeply about God’s glory as America’s greatest theologian has, who Storms quotes:

God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart.

Therefore, “passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence. If God is to be supremely glorified in us it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus. So, here’s why you are: to relish and rejoice in the revelation of divine beauty.”

I don’t know about you, but most Christians in my circle (including myself) are blind to the beauty of God, other than perhaps while singing certain contemporary worship songs (though without truly grasping the meaning and implications of God’s majesty and glory). How many of us can honestly say with the psalmist that we seek “one thing from the Lord”, to be in his presence to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4; ISV)

Storms pulls no punches when he asserts that:

The problem is that they are oblivious to the beauty of God. Worse than that, they’re bored. God is real to them. They’re not atheists. He just isn’t relevant. Far less is he cause for celebration. That’s why when life is hard and disillusionment sets in, God isn’t the first thing to enter their minds (if they think of him at all). Many instinctively turn to whatever will anesthetize their pain or bring a spark to their souls.

Shallow thoughts of God leads to shallow lives; one can’t divorce head from heart, beliefs from practices, theology from doxology.

For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36; CSB

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Very timely and important .. have a listen!  Especially helpful beginning at 13:00 minute mark. I have been getting a bit frustrated repeating the same thing over and over but people are slow to hear and understand. I’m talking about your typical hierarchical leadership model.

So I plead with you: LISTEN!


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Some good points on how leaders impact an organization’s culture:

1. Speed

The phrase “speed of the leader, speed of the team” typically proves to be true. A lethargic and indecisive leader will lead a slow-moving team. And a team bent toward rigorous execution is led by a leader who is as well.

2. Enthusiasm

A team’s passion or passivity is typically reflective of their leader. If a leader is passionate for the mission, the team will be passionate for the mission. If the leader passively approaches the work, the team will passively approach the work as well.

3. Demeanor

An optimistic and passionate leader will infuse the team with optimism and passion. A defeated and miserable leader will form a defeated team. Rarely will you find a happy group of people that are led by a miserable leader.

4. Responsiveness

A leader’s level and speed of responsiveness is contagious. If a leader is responsive to people on the team, people on the team will be responsive to one another and to the people the team is designed to serve. And the speed of the leader’s responsiveness sets the standard for the others’ speed of responsiveness.

5. Expectations

The expectations of the team will not rise above the expectations the leader places on himself or herself. If the leader tolerates mediocrity and lack of discipline, the team will as well.

6. Learning

Learning leaders lead learning teams. If a leader is not learning and adjusting, the team will likely not be learning and adjusting either. If the leader is learning and growing, people on the team will either ramp up their learning or eventually tap out.

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This past Saturday, at our church’s members’ meeting, I had the privilege to present my thoughts on leadership. My original slide deck was created on Oct. 1, 2018 and presented to the elders on Dec. 9, 2018. A slightly revised version was presented to the Personnel Committee on Dec. 22 at their request. This was followed by yet more minor modifications in preparation for presentation to our LMT (elders and deacons) meeting on Feb. 9, 2019. At that meeting, there seemed to be a consensus on adopting the biblical model of leadership (a plurality of elders) and therefore, I was asked to present my slide deck to the members’ meeting on Feb. 23, for which I revised the deck once more.

Based on a few of the questions that followed, there seems to be some doubt whether this approach would work (entrenched ideas are hard to overturn), and even the answers offered by one of the elders seemed to indicate hesitation, despite the supposed consensus arrived at on Feb. 9. Clearly, the elders need to meet and discuss further to either affirm this or else to offer an alternative.

This morning, I came across similar sentiments from Geoff Holsclaw:

For us, leadership at the highest level is structured as a co-pastorate.  There is no ‘senior’ or ‘lead’ pastor where the buck finally stops, where the decisions are finally made, where final authority resides.  While our community was planted by one person, David Fitch, he very quickly brought me on as a co-pastor.  And then later we brought on a third co-pastor to balance out the giftings among us.  Now Fitch is preparing to relocate and I serve alongside my wife and Ty Grigg.

We did this in order to spread out the ministry, offer opportunities for younger leaders to grow, but most importantly, as a structured model of shared leadership.  As co-pastors we had to practice the pattern of althoughdid not—but.  Although we were called as pastors and therefore elevated by a certain authority, we did not, we could not practice unilateral power, but mutually submitted to one another as we lead the community.  This was embedded in our pastoral structure because Christ-like leadership is not merely servant leadership. Rather we have given up having a ‘lead’ anything at all by creating an alternative structure.

The Death of Leadership: Christ and Co-Leadership

I love how Geoff also draws his inspiration from the carmen Christi of Phil. 2:6-11, which is how I concluded my presentation. Truly, I cannot understand how anyone can continue clamouring for someone to be “in charge” or an elder ambitiously clawing their way to the top for a “Lead Pastor” role in a spirit of competition after reading this passage!

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Redesigning Our Liturgy

Thought for today:

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In “Gender Discrimination Still Exists — Now What?” (MIT Sloan Management Review; Fall 2018) Morela Hernandez discusses the persistence of blind spots to gender bias and sugggests the use of scripts to aid in responding in the moment to an inappropriate comment. By script, she means a “set of words or phrases that would signal to a peer that he has crossed a line, whether knowingly or unknowingly.”

She goes on to say that scripts “act as a pause button of sorts that enable us to reevaluate what was said or done, despite the initial surprise or shock of witnessing the biased behavior. They allow us to plan, in more deliberate ways, on how to push back respectfully and effectively.” In particular, she argues that scripts can help address two cognitive shortcomings that lie behind our blind spots: egocentricity [our difficulty in understanding perspectives other than our own] and confirmation bias.

Beyond the gender issues that this article is focused on, what does this have to do with our church life? It is her closing statement (emphasis mine), Learning how to develop and enact scripts to disengage from the automaticity of our everyday interactions is ultimately a collaborative effort, that made me think of conversations and meetings in Christian circles. Too often, our dialogue is sprinkled with Christianese and religious clichés that have their origin in the automaticity of enculturated lingo and jargon. Consequently, too often we don’t get past the superficialities and instead, hide our true intentions behind pious phrases instead of confronting the issues head on. Maybe we need to develop scripts as well to deal with the common blind spots and biases that are all too common in our churches.

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