Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Coaching Classes Offered by Central Seminary

I want to take this space to share a great opportunity for those who are interested in learning coaching skills:

Once accessible only to key executive and business leaders, the demand for coaching is growing among individuals in all areas of life.  Whether it is called life coaching, leadership coaching, or discipleship coaching, churches and church leaders are seeking to develop skills in this people development process. With a new coaching concentration, Central Baptist Theological Seminary is seeking to meet that need.

In the fall of 2014, Central will begin offering three elective courses online that will assist seminary students in acquiring skills as coaches.  “Introduction to Mentoring, Coaching, and Learning Communities” (MP513e) is a fall semester course for those who wish to add mentoring and coaching to their skill sets as they work with individuals in churches, not for profits, and missional faith communities. 

For students who are interested in preparation to apply for a coaching credential from the International Coach Federation, two courses will be offered to fulfill the class requirements for the basic coaching credential.  ICF is a major third-party global provider for coach certification. 

 “The Ministry of Coaching” (MP509e), an online class for spring 2015, is designed around the International Coach Federation Competencies and Code of Ethics.  The class introduces students to several coaching models and involves them in practicing these models.  The second course, “Coaching Practicum” (MP514e) will be offered online during the summer term 2015 to help students develop advanced coaching skills, cross cultural coaching, and intergenerational coaching issues.

Instructors for the courses are Ircel Harrison and Rhonda Abbot Blevins, supplemental faculty members in ministry praxis.  Harrison has taught classes for the seminary since 2007.  He is an ICF certified coach and co-author of Disciple Development Coaching as well as the Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates.  Blevins is Associate Pastor for Congregational Leadership at Tellico Village Community Church in Loudon, Tennessee, and a recent Doctor of Ministry graduate of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.  She has also served as a campus minister and denominational leader.  Blevins has been a coach with Pinnacle Leadership Associates since 2013 and is pursuing certification by ICF as a life coach.

Central has been an innovator in the area of coaching.  The seminary began offering individual coaching to the first Doctor of Ministry cohort two years ago.  The 2013-2017 create Master of Divinity students have been assigned mentor coaches.  A course on “The Ministry of Coaching” has been offered as a seminary elective since 2011.  This is a further step to empower leaders for effective ministry.

Please contact Ircel Harrison at ircelharrison@gmail.com for further information or to ask questions about the classes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Future of Space

On July 20, we marked the 45th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon.  Like most people, I was pinned to the television to watch the grainy pictures of the first steps by Apollo 11 astronauts on an alien world.  Once Apollo was over, human exploration of the Moon ended.  In fact, we retreated to near Earth orbit and left exploration farther out to automated probes and instrumented landers.  I must admit that I am disappointed when I realize that my grandchildren have never seen a real live person walk on the Moon.  Apollo is ancient history for them.

In addition, the United States no longer has an active crewed spacecraft capable of achieving orbit.  With the end of the Space Shuttle program, Americans are dependent on Russians to take American astronauts into space.  NASA talks about human missions to Mars, but I would not hold my breath about the possibilities.  The United States Air Force seems more interested in drones and surveillance satellites than putting people into space.

The future of space exploration and exploitation is primarily in the hands of commercial entrepreneurs like SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and Virgin Galactic.  Perhaps this is the way that it should be.  Those who take the risks will receive the rewards.  These are the entities that will reap the benefits from asteroid mining, power generation, and space factories.  Exploitation will trump exploration with the latter done only by instruments.

The downside is that governments will eventually find themselves completely dependent on independent contractors for space services.  With military downsizing, this is the approach now used in Afghanistan and other places where the U.S. military has a presence overseas.  Much of the support, technical, and even security responsibilities are outsourced.  This may seem the most economical approach right now, but will it always be so?

Whenever the first human craft lands on Mars, expect it to carry as many logos as a NASCAR contender.  And that’s the way it is . . .

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Asking Powerful Questions


In coaching, I know that I have asked a good question when the person I am coaching pauses and says, “That is a good question.”  This means that we have moved into an area or found a perspective that the person has not considered before.  The client is standing in a different place and considering their challenge in a new way.

I was reminded of this when I heard a podcast by Keith Webb recently.  Keith is a coach and coach educator with Creative Results Management.  In the recording, he pointed out that the coach’s role is not to help people get things done but to look at things in a new way.  This requires powerful questions.

Often, the tendency in coaching is to move quickly toward the solution—identify an objective, set goals, and design the action steps to get there.  This may work, but the danger in this approach is failing to identify the client’s real objective.  We have “missed the mark.”

The gift that the coach gives to the person being coaching is an environment in which to think about his or her challenges in a new way.  The coach actually creates a safe, non-judgmental, and creative space for the client to gain a new perspective.  Why is this a gift?  Because we rarely take the time to do this on our own.

Thanks, Keith, for reminding me that presence, asking good questions, and listening are worth the time invested in them and provide the person being coached with the freedom to identify what is most important for their personal growth and development.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good Theological Education is Not Cheap

Several years ago, someone contacted me about auditing a class at our seminary site.  She was upset when I quoted her the fee to do this even though the fee was only a third of the cost for taking the class for full credit.  I was surprised because I knew she did not seem to mind paying a much larger amount for a session ticket for her favorite college basketball team.

Good theological education is not cheap.  Of course, you can find unaccredited schools that will give you a degree with a minimum amount of effort or cost, but I don’t consider that theological education, much less good theological education.  The result of this relationship is a piece of paper rather than an education.

Most of us, including theological students, don’t realize that the individual student does not carry the full cost of his or her education.  Even though students may borrow money to go to seminary, the total cost would be prohibitive if the student had to bear it completely.

Good theological education is made accessible to students due to several factors.

First, individual donors provide assistance.  Some of these are graduates of the school, but most often they are people who have been touched by the ministry of a clergy person who attended the school or that of a professor or administrator.  These donors may never have taken a theology class, but they appreciate the work of the institution.

Second, committed faculty members often work at a low rate of compensation because they believe in the ministry of the institution.  They are committed both to their disciplines and forming a new generation of ordained and lay leaders.

Third, wise administrators make good use of the resources available.  They employ good management procedures and accountability structures to get the most out of every dollar available.

Fourth, certain foundations are very interested in specific emphases and provide grants to assist theological institutions to undertake new initiatives.  These are usually limited in time and scope, but they help seminaries and divinity schools to move in new and challenging directions such as cross-cultural education or international immersion experiences.

Fifth, institutions increasingly are dependent on quality adjunct faculty who work on a contract basis without benefits in order to hold costs down.  Clergy, itinerant educators, and retired professors do this because they believe in and support the mission of the institution.

Good theological education is not cheap but it is worth every penny invested.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Finding Direction for the Local Church

Being a denominational executive at any level has never been an easy job and it certainly has not improved in the early decades of the 21st century.  In addition to dealing with financial and social issues, individual congregations even in denominations with a hierarchical polity are exerting their individuality.

Because of this, one wonders why a competent denominational leader would attempt to identify priorities for churches for the next ten years.  In a recent article in a denominational publication, a well meaning state Baptist leader outlined goals for “bringing people to salvation,” “revitalizing churches,” and “planting new churches” among other things.  These would seem to be things that churches do rather than denominations.

On a personal level, I cannot motivate another person to do something unless he or she wants to. In like manner, a church will only become “revitalized” or “bring people to salvation” if its members choose that path. 

In the old mechanized, bureaucratic approach of the 20th century, denominations—even those with congregational polity-- set standards and challenged their individual congregations to meet them and many attempted to do so either out of denominational loyalty or a desire for more efficient ministry. This often worked well and when it didn’t, denominations just plowed ahead anyway, churning out new curriculum and programs for the churches.

In the 21st century, more congregations are aware of their unique calling from God to be part of the mission Dei—God’s mission.  They realize that the Spirit of God can work in their midst calling forth their giftedness, and they recognize their role in reaching out to their communities and the world.

This is a bottom up rather than a top down approach.  This is the world in which we live. Denominations that thrive in the 21st century will be those who support rather then dictate, empower rather than regulate, and serve rather than direct.  But not everyone understands this yet.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Hyatt Regency—45 Years Later

When I attended the CBF General Assembly at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta last week, I realized that the last time I had been in the hotel was December 1969 when I attended Mission 70, a program put together by six Southern Baptist Convention agencies that attracted 5000 college students and young adults.

With music written especially for the event, original drama, and speakers like Coretta Scott King and NBC commentator John Chancellor, meeting planners sought to engage a young adult generation that included both those immersed in social activism and those who were just on the periphery.  We were challenged as Christians to take up the tasks of justice and reconciliation in order to make a difference in the world.

As a Vietnam veteran and a student in his final year of seminary, I was a bit on the edge of the action.  I had a wife, one child and one on the way, and I was looking for a place to do collegiate ministry (what we called Baptist Student Union at that time).  I was still wondering what shape my own ministry would take.

Many of my peers who were at that meeting eventually gave up on Southern Baptists in particular and Baptists in general.  They went in a number of different directions, but the momentum for social change generated by Mission 70 stayed with them.  Many did make a difference, but often outside the church.

Similarly, the calls to social action, justice, and reconciliation were all part of the 2014 CBF General Assembly and presented in several forums.  We have come a long way, but there is still so much more to do.

This commitment to change the world is very attractive to the young adults that CBF is seeking to engage in its work.  If CBF is to continue to be a vital “denominetwork,” we need new leaders, fresh ideas, and youthful enthusiasm.   The leaders of Mission 70—people like Lloyd Householder and Ed Seabough—knew this was true.  I think that the leaders of CBF and its partners realize it, too, and are investing in a new generation in an intentional way.  Who knows  where that will lead?


Monday, June 30, 2014

Pastor Beware!

The challenge is usually presented to the prospective pastor by a member of the search committee in this way:  “If we call you as pastor, we expect you to __________.”  (Fill in the blank.)  The directive may be to remove a long time staff member, do away with a worship service, or settle a disagreement that Solomon himself would avoid.  Don’t fall into this trap.  If you have never encountered this, let me suggest what your response should be:  “Thank you for your interest.  Once you have settled this concern, please call me back.”

A new pastor has enough on his or her plate without coming into the church with a commission to deal with something that present leadership has avoided.  The pastor who accepts such an assignment will find his or her tenure very short, very painful, or both.

Why would a new pastor ever accept such an assignment?  First, the new pastor probably has an unrealistic view of the church and the immensity of the problem.  If present leaders or the former pastor have not been able to deal with this issue, one should expect that it is so deeply ingrained and explosive that addressing it will split the church wide open.  The committee is looking for a hired assassin to deal with the situation, and such people are often expendable.

Second, the new pastor may have an inflated sense of his or her own ability to work with people and deal with difficult situations.  This may have been true in the new pastor’s previous church but probably only because he or she had invested in the people there and gained credibility in that particular congregation.  Such credibility is rarely transferable without an equal amount of work in the new setting.

Third, the new pastor may be desperate for a place of service so is he or she is willing to accept the commission.  As Alexander Pope wrote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Don’t be foolish.

The prospective pastor should listen to the committee with a problem and remember, “There has been only one Savior in this world and you are not Him.”


Why I Still Attend the CBF General Assembly

Author on CBTS panel at 2014 General Assembly
How many Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assemblies have I attended?  I have lost count.  I started attending before I was elected coordinator for Tennessee CBF and, of course, never missed a session while I served in that position.  I continue to attend, however.  Like most lay persons who attend, I pay my own way and devote three days to the meeting and a couple of days to travel.  Why do I continue to go to Fort Worth, Greensboro, Tampa, Atlanta, and other cities for these meetings?

First, I go because that is where my friends are.  They are not only friends I made through being part of the Fellowship movement, but men and women who were students I came to know through my service on three college campuses and through denominational work.  Others are lay people and clergy whose paths have crossed mine in fifty plus years of ministry.  We are all older and a bit wiser, but we share a common bond and a desire to live out our calling as “free and faithful Baptists.”

Second, I attend because I am interested in supporting various related groups like Baptist Women in Ministry, Baptist Center for Ethics, Associated Baptist Press, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  They are part of the CBF network and offer unique and focused ministries that I support.

Third, I go to show my support for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and to learn about the new initiatives the movement is embracing.  Being a denomination/network in the 21st century is an evolving challenge and I am impressed by various attempts by CBF to engage individuals and churches in Kingdom ministry.

Fourth, I attend because of my work with Central Baptist Theological Seminary which is giving me a chance to encourage and equip a new generation of leaders.  CBTS wants to be part of the work of CBF, and I use every opportunity to facilitate that relationship.

Fifth, I attend as part of my work with Pinnacle Leadership Associates.  Pinnacle does not have a formal relationship with CBF, but national and state leaders have partnered with us from time to time to offer our services to individuals and churches.  Pinnacle provides services that CBF-related churches need, and I try to tell that story.

Sixth, I attend CBF General Assembly because I engage with leaders of all ages who taking the Baptist legacy into the future in exciting and innovative ways.  And that gives me hope.