Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Barnabas: Missional Leader

Last month I wrote of my search for an icon of Barnabas and of his example as the prototypical Christian coach.  A couple of things have happened since.  I found the icon on line (pictured here) and it is now hanging in my office.  I have also been teaching The Book of Acts on Sunday morning and have been immersed in texts on Barnabas’ role as a leader in the growth of the early church.  I still affirm his empowering role as a coach, but I have seen another aspect of Barnabas as well.

Barnabas was a missional leader.  He was committed to the missio Dei—the mission of God.  The missional church concept is built on the nature of a missional God, One who sends.  God sent the prophets, God sent Jesus Christ, and God is now sending us.  This God has a people who are living out his mission in the world.  Barnabas was one of those people.  Although he was not officially an apostle, he was one of the “sent ones” who furthered God’s mission in the early days of the church.

We see his missional life style in several situations in the Book of Acts.

First, Barnabas showed a spirit of generosity by his care for others in the church at Jerusalem.  He saw possessions not as something to be accumulated but an opportunity to bless others.  Missional Christians are very conscious of the proper stewardship of those things with which God has blessed them.

Second, he exercised hospitality even if it involved taking a risk.  When Saul came to Jerusalem and could not get a meeting with the leaders there, Barnabas took a risk and became his advocate.  In so doing, he was exercising radical hospitality to a former persecutor of the Way.  Missional Christians today are challenged to open their doors, hearts, and lives to those who are different, even potential antagonists.

Third, he found where God was working and got involved.  When he visited the church at Antioch, he sensed the work of the Holy Spirit there and not only became engaged himself but sought out Saul to join the community.  Missional Christians are sensitive to where God is working (and God is working just about everywhere) and invest themselves there.

Fourth, Barnabas was open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  When the Spirit set aside Saul and Barnabas for what we now call “the first missionary journey” to the Gentiles, there is no indication of hesitation on his part.  He accepted the opportunity willingly.  Missional Christians today need to recognize the leadership of the Spirit into new places of service and ministry and respond quickly.  

Fifth, he was willing to be creative and innovative in sharing the Gospel.  Barnabas and Saul worked together to penetrate their culture for Christ.  When the leaders of the synagogues rejected them, they moved on to other venues and new relationships.  Missional Christians are willing to adopt new (and sometimes old) methodologies to reach people for Christ.

Missional Christians today can learn much from the faithful example of Barnabas as a missional leader.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grandchildren and Reverse Mentoring

Having grandchildren is a blessing.  Although sometimes care giving of grandchildren becomes a necessity, Rita and I are in a position to enjoy our grandchildren and then send them home to parents! The joy comes from watching them grow, learn, and come into their own as unique, gifted children of God.  They also teach me a lot.

Earl Creps in Reverse Mentoring presents an argument for young adults in the church helping their elders learn how to be more effective in ministry.  I think this also applies to interactive grandparenting as my grandchildren help me to learn things that I need to know.

First, they keep me informed about contemporary Christian music and the culture it reflects.  I don’t attend a contemporary worship service on a regular basis but through my grandchildren’s encouragement, I now have a couple of stations programmed into my car radio that play contemporary Christian music.  This makes them happy, but it also gives me an idea of the music that engages and informs young people as well as the theology it presents.

Second, they keep me updated on contemporary culture.  I probably would know nothing about the Avengers, Legos, or Darius Rucker if it were not for my grandchildren.  Why is this important?  Because I know that we cannot hope to engage our culture with the gospel unless we understand the values, heroes, and challenges communicated by popular films, music, and literature.  Becoming aware of the toys that either encourage creativity or stifle it helps to me to know what engages the minds of a new generation.  Innovation and creativity are important not only for personal satisfaction but for meaningful contributions to our faith and our society.

Third, they continue to teach me about digital technology.  If you have a problem with your iPhone or iPad, ask your teenage grandchild (and sometimes your preschool grandchild).  They understand tech intuitively and are comfortable with all types of digital gadgets.  As much as we may curse the digital age, we must learn to use it rather than letting it use us.  Grandchildren help us to see both the danger and the promise of technology.

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to be involved in these young lives both as a mentor and as a learner. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

New Wineskins

In a recent Faculty Senate meeting at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, President Molly Marshall referred to Matthew 9:17 in her devotional:

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. " (NIV)

If we are sensitive enough to perceive it, we will see new wine flowing today.  Our culture provides unique opportunities and challenges.  Men and women perceive the leadership of God’s Spirit to undertake new ministries.  Doors are opening up for ministry across ethnic and national barriers.  The Spirit of God is at work.

How sad then to see attempts to force this “new wine” of ministry into old wineskins that attempt to constrain it and will ultimately produce only damage and waste.  What we need are new wineskins for new wine.

Many of us grew up with 20th century organizations that were based on an industrial mindset.  Even if one did not work in factory or a large corporation, other entities (including the churches) adopted hierarchical, specialized organizational models that were perceived as efficient as well as effective.

 Much good was done by such organizations but there were negative aspects as well.  Decisions were made at the top of the pyramid and filtered down to those at the bottom.  People were often seen as interchangeable parts that could be moved from one position to another with little thought of emotional or relational compatibility.  A “silo” mentality grew up around certain activities within organizations so that there was very little interaction between the various divisions (an appropriate word) or departments. 

Many organizations in the 21st century organizations have adopted more organic models that are modeled around networks or webs—people interact not only one to one but in multiple relationships and at several levels.  Such organizations have given birth to matrix models with people working across departmental barriers or teams brought together from different parts of an organization to do a project.  Planning, designing and implementation are seen as collaborative exercises.

Most churches and faith -based organizations are still following 20th century models.  Ministries operate within their own silos and rarely interact.  There is little communication let alone cooperation between various programs or activities of the church.  This approach produces comments like, “That’s not my job,”  “I can’t make that decision,” or “That’s beyond my pay grade” and leads to indifference, lack of motivation, confusion, and poor quality work.

There is hope on the horizon.  Some churches are planning around the “big idea” approach with the goal of aligning every part of the life of the church around a common vision.  Others are reducing the number of committees and replacing them with teams that actually do ministry rather than serve as gatekeepers.  Administrative structures are being streamlined to encourage rather than control creativity.

These new wineskins recognize the way that the Spirit desires to work among God’s people.  When we allow space for the Spirit to work, anything is possible.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Level of Commitment: Group or Team?

Since we were children, we have been part of groups on many occasions.  Many have been informal—gathering with friends for meals or recreation, for example—while others have been more structured—classes, work groups, etc.   We have all been part of groups, but how many us of have been part of a team?  How can we tell the difference? 

Groups are made up of individuals.  Although they may be working on a common task, they still tend to think of themselves as individuals.  Each person brings his or her gifts and skills to the enterprise, but each person is careful in how these are shared, providing only what is absolutely necessary to “do their part.”  One reason is that rewards in a group are usually given to certain individuals—the designated leader or the high performers.  Interpersonal relationships are guarded and cautious.

A team on the other hand not only has a common purpose, but the persons involved often have a role in shaping that purpose and how it will be achieved.  The gifts and skills of each person are not only utilized, they are recognized and encouraged.  Teams tend to be more than the sum of their parts because something happens when team members are invested in the outcome of the team’s efforts.  A real team shares the rewards with everyone who is a part of the team because success or failure is dependent on the team dynamic and not simply individual achievement. Team members appreciate and empower one another.

Working as a group may be hard but it takes much less effort than building a team.  Members of a well-functioning team will readily assert that it is worth the extra effort.

In I Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul pointed out very clearly the difference for Christians between being part of a group and being part of a team.  He writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7, NIV).  Each believer is blessed by the presence of the Spirit in his or her life and that Spirit calls forth certain gifts.  The key teaching, however, is that these gifts are not just for the benefit of the individual but for the common good.  The church is a team of people who are not only called to pull in the same direction but to share the giftedness that God have provided to each of them to accomplish the mission of God.
If you are a Christian believer, you are called not just to a group but to a team.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. Barnabas: A Christian Coach

When I visited Conception Abbey recently, I asked for an icon of St. Barnabas.  I was disappointed to learn that neither the book store nor the Printery House at the Abbey had such an item.  Barnabas, one of my favorite characters in the New Testament evidently does not get the respect he deserves!

Why do I like Barnabas?  Because he exhibits all of the best characteristics of a Christian coach.  We can learn a lot from Barnabas and how he invested himself in others. 

The man we know as Barnabas was originally named Joseph.  He was a Levite from Cyprus who became part of the church in Jerusalem.  Because of his unusual generosity, the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” or “son of exhortation” (Acts 4:36-37).  When Saul first appeared in Jerusalem after his conversion from persecutor to preacher, the members of the church were afraid of him. Barnabas became Saul’s advocate, bringing him to the apostles and vouching for his conversion to the faith (Acts 9:26-27). 

When church leaders in Jerusalem heard that the gospel was being preached to Gentiles in Antioch, they were concerned and sent Barnabas, a man they trusted, to investigate.  Barnabas saw clear evidence of God at work in Antioch and became part of the Jesus movement there.  He went to Tarsus to find Saul. Together they provided leadership to the growing Antioch for a year (Acts 11:22-26).

Led by the Spirit of God, the Antioch church set aside (ordained) Barnabas and Saul for a mission to other Gentile cities (Acts 13:1-3).   On this first missionary journey, Barnabas was the apparent leader, but he encouraged Saul (who became known as Paul on this trip) to exercise his considerable gifts.  They established several churches in Asia Minor, but their success led to controversy with the church at Jerusalem about conditions to be imposed on Gentile converts.  At the first church council, Barnabas and Paul spoke out for an unhindered gospel and were vindicated (Acts 15:12-23).

Paul and Barnabas began to make plans to revisit the churches they had established in Asia Minor, but they had a major dispute over taking John Mark with them.  The young man had deserted them on the earlier journey, and Paul did not want Mark to be part of their group.  As one might expect, Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. The old partners disagreed so strongly that Paul chose another traveling companion and the two men parted ways (Acts 15:36-41).  Barnabas’ confidence in Mark’s potential seems to have been justified by later writings attributed to Paul.  In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Mark is identified as one of Paul’s fellow workers who sent greetings (Philemon 24).  Paul wrote to the Colossians to receive Mark if he came to them (Colossians 4:10).  In his last letter to Timothy, he asked Timothy to bring Mark with him because Paul considered Mark a useful helper (2 Timothy 4:11).

What are the characteristics that Barnabas exhibited that a Christian coach should embrace?
·         He found joy in the giving of himself to others.
·         He saw people through God’s eyes—full of potential.
·         He lived out the belief that God is at work in every person.
·         He rejoiced when individuals joined God on mission in the world
·         He saw mistakes as learning opportunities rather than terminal experiences
·         He exhibited unconditional positive regard—grace.

Barnabas provides us with a role model for the effective Christian coach, one who always looks for the best in others and helps them to achieve their goals.  We are challenged to follow his example.  We all need a Barnabas in our lives, and we can become a Barnabas in the lives of others.

(Adapted from Disciple Development Coaching by Mark Tidsworth and Ircel Harrison)



St. Patrick: Missional Leader

When I visited Conception Abbey recently, I purchased an icon of St. Patrick.  I chose this not as a means to facilitate worship but because of my admiration for the pioneering evangelist.   I often include George Hunter’s book The Celtic Way of Evangelism on the required reading list of the Missional Church class I teach from time to time.  Hunter explains very clearly how a pagan people were won to the Christian faith, establishing an arm of the church that flourished in a period when other parts of the church were experiencing conflict and decline. 

Although the role of St. Patrick in the conversion of the Irish is shrouded in myth and legend, this “patron saint of Ireland” is credited with the rapid conversion of the Irish to Christianity and the establishment of an enduring Christian community there.  Certain principles at the core of this outreach reflect the experiences recounted of the mythical Patrick’s life, but they are significant for us today even if they were not initiated by the man himself.

First, those who led in the conversion of the Irish understood the culture and used it to communicate the Christian faith.  Legend tells us that Patrick had been kidnapped from England as a youngster and spent several years as a slave in Ireland before escaping.  When he returned as a missionary to Ireland, he knew the language, the social structure, and the customs.  Whether this is true or not, the Christian mission to the Irish used the symbols and mythology of the Irish to explain Christianity, building on concepts that the people could grasp easily.

Second, Christian missionaries in Ireland understood the value of community to the Irish people.  They established communities that invited both believers and non-believers to participate.  People were able to belong and then believe.  They could observe what Christianity was all about before they converted to the faith.

Third, the Christian church in Ireland embraced the egalitarianism of the Irish society.  In Irish culture, women were respected and protected under the law.  Because of this, the church accepted women in significant leadership roles, even that of bishop.  This increased the impact of the church in Ireland much more than in parts of the world where women were not given this opportunity.

Hunter provides a great deal more information about both the characteristics of the Irish or Celtic branch of the church in his book, but he also points out how the approach taken by Patrick and his followers can be applied to the church’s mission in North America today.

Ancient practices can be a fresh wind of the Spirit for churches today.

(A version of this blog appeared on March 14, 2013)



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Calling Out Coaches

Jeff Cockerham is a smart guy.  Not just because he invited me to train coaches in his church, but because of the way that he enlisted church members for that training.    In my work with Pinnacle Leadership Associates, I train clergy and laity to use coaching principles in their congregations with the Disciple Development Coaching© process.  We recently began providing a congregational model for this training and Jeff invited me to lead it at Central Baptist Church, Fountain City (Knoxville), Tennessee, in August.

I was impressed by the approach that Jeff took in assembling the group for training.  He sought out people in the congregation who were already invested in empowering their brothers and sisters in Christ.  These were leaders in various areas of church life who are already calling out the best in others.  In reality, they were already coaching other church members.

So, if they were already doing this, why did they need training?

First, DDC provided them with the encouragement to continue what they were already doing.  Ken Blanchard and others talk about finding people doing something right and encouraging them to do more of it.  Just being recognized is a motivator and assures continuation of an important ministry.

Second, DDC training gave them a vocabulary to use in their coaching.  The training helps a coach, even one who is doing coaching on an informal basis, to understand the meaning of terms like “accountability” and “design” in the coaching process and apply that understanding.

Third, DDC training helped them to develop and improve their skills in coaching.  They can now be more intentional as they build rapport with, encourage, and walk alongside the persons they are coaching.  They are more aware of what they bring to the process.

When Mark Tidsworth invited me to become part of Pinnacle Leadership Associates as a coach, my first response was, “I am not a coach.”  Mark explained to me, “You have really been coaching people for years, even though you have not been trained as a coach.”
Seek out those who are already doing coaching and find ways to encourage them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Remembering for Those Who No Longer Can

How often have you found yourself in this situation?  You are visiting someone whose spouse, parent, or friend is suffering from dementia due to health issues or medication and your acquaintance says, “I don’t know this person any longer.  They don’t know me.  Where did all the memories, all the good times, go?”

Compounding the situation is that those suffering from dementia may become angry or even threatening toward their caregivers.  Children who have loved and been loved for years are now strangers.  Spouses who have been involved in long-term loving relationships are outsiders or even antagonists.  Friends no longer have common bonds built on shared interests.

How does a caregiver deal with the sense of alienation and rejection that comes from such situations?
First, the caregiver should reach out to partners who can give perspective.  These may be hospice workers, family, friends, or pastors.  These people help the caregiver to understand that this is the sickness or the medication speaking and not the loved one.  They can pull the caregiver back into reality and affirm that person’s commitment to and love for the one with dementia.

Second, the caregiver must take care of himself or herself by depending on those same helpers to get rest and respite.  Even having someone to stay with the loved one so that the caregiver can take a walk or go shopping can be refreshing and invigorating.  Fresh air and a change of venue make a gif difference.

Third, the caregiver can make a commitment to become the custodian of the good memories.  They are not lost if the caregiver can continue to celebrate and remember the joys, struggles, and cherished moment that they have shared with the parent, friend, or spouse.  As long as the caregiver remembers and shares those memories with others, the good times are not lost.