The Trouble With Techniques


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Our instinct as leaders is to find ways to do things that are productive and, hopefully, predictable. This is understandable and often helpful. But there is a technique mindset that can move us into an orientation in which we fail to pay attention to God’s guidance. Listen to some thoughts on this from Marva Dawn:

“As Jacques Ellul noted, it is not technology that is a problem; it is the Technique, the technological mind-set that deceives us into thinking that if we get just the right technological fix we will solve our problems. If we choose just the right style of music, we’ll attract great crowds to our churches. If we use the right methods, our youth group will grow. If we develop a good gimmick, our Vacation Bible School will be the fastest growing in the world!” (Dawn, Marva & Eugene Peterson. The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000, p. 97.)

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The Power of Leaders Who Listen


I’ve been doing more and more ministry consulting recently, especially focused on helping churches and other ministry organizations work on the transformation of their leadership cultures. Most leaders emphasize talking over listening. The assumption is that more words will always win the day. But we are discovering the transforming power of listening:

  • Listening to God for myself and for our ministry.
  • Listening with God to our past (and the good to be kept or the harmful or worthless to be turned from and left behind).
  • Listening to one another in leadership teams.
  • Listening to God for the people and the ‘program’
  • Listening to people we serve.

When we fail to listen, we may also find ourselves failing to keep first things first. We forget the words of Jesus that are rich not only in personal wisdom but in leadership wisdom as well:

Matthew 6:33 NLT, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Instead of being attentive to the reign and the way of God, we find ourselves seeking first:

  • To be different
  • To be attractive
  • To be relevant
  • To be cool
  • To be liked

Are these God’s invitations to us? Are these evidences of His loving reign and His good way? Everything good is a fruit of making our seeking of God a first response instead of a last resort. When God is truly reigning in our lives, we are different in ways we cannot manufacture directly. We love one another from the powerful center of sharing Christ in common. Our lives actually display God’s glory in increasing measure. And what could be more relevant than a community of people living a truly caring, joyful, relaxed way of life together?

For Reflection:

  • What are you tempted to seek first these days in your life and ministry before God’s gracious reign and His life-giving way?

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Telling Our Stories of Transformation


(A repost from March 2010)

One expanding arena of our work in The Leadership Institute has been in organizational transformation. Recently, Paul Jensen pointed me to a quotation in Evil and the Justice of God (Intervarsity, 2006), where N. T. Wright says, “As Walter Wink has argued strongly in his major work on the powers, there is a great deal to be said for the view that all corporate institutions have a kind of corporate soul, an identity which is greater than the sum of its parts, which can actually tell the parts what to do and how to do it. This leads to the view that in some cases at least, some of these corporate institutions-whether they be industrial companies, governments or even (God help us) churches–can become so corrupted with evil that the language of ‘possession’ at a corporate level becomes the only way to explain the phenomena before us (p. 18, emphasis mine).”

Wright and Jensen are careful about explicitly referencing the demonic in relation to Christian organizations, but there can be patterns in any organization that look more unholy than holy, unloving than loving, ungraced than graced. Christian organizations may find themselves desiring a deeper integrity as it relates to practicing God’s presence in their individual and shared life together. One of the tools that has proven fruitful is remembering and telling founding stories. In any church, ministry, mission, movement or denomination, there are stories about how it came to be. There are often powerful God dynamics illustrated in those stories. Over time, a community may lose touch with those God stories. When this happens, a community forgets who they are and Who God is among them.

A basic biblical version of this dynamic is the way in which Israel told and retold their own Exodus story, remembering together (and often) how God had delivered them from centuries of slavery in a miraculous way through the Red Sea. Whenever they lost track of that story, they lost track of their unique relationship with God. So the story needed to be told and retold.

What are some of your own earliest God stories? How well do you remember them? How often do you remember them?

If you are in any kind of ministry leadership, what are some of the founding stories of your organization? How might remembering them be a source of renewal and encouragement for your community?

Buy a copy of Evil & the Justice of God on Amazon.com

Spiritual Transformation: We Don’t Have Time!


I’ve written here before about a simple, strategic insight we’ve been gaining in our work alongside Christian organizations and ministries in spiritual transformation. It’s so simple it almost sounds silly to mention it, but here it is: There must be time and space given to spiritual practices (like scripture reflection, waiting on God in community, intercessory prayer) in the midst of leadership, planning, board and other organizational meetings.

One of the barriers to this occurring is an insidious little belief that creeps into our thinking: “There is so much to do for God that we don’t have time for these practices.” The assumption is usually that everyone will make time on their own to pray or read the scriptures reflectively. I certainly hope Christian leaders do this. But we’ve found that many don’t. The need is to practice the Christian life together as well as in our prayer closet.

Another way this “we don’t have time” belief sounds like this: “Ministry time given to mutual prayer, scripture reflection and other spiritual practices will diminish our ministry productivity.” We won’t get as much done if we are taking some church or ministry office hours to pray together, listen to scripture together, etc. Our experience is the opposite. Even a tithe of time given to sharing in the life of Christ together in community multiplies itself in creativity, wisdom, energy and other spiritual realities that actually increase ministry fruit. (We encourage leadership teams and ministry boards to work towards devoting one-third of their gathering to seeking God together in such practices).

A while back, we encouraged an international ministry board to devote one of their three packed board meeting days to simply seeking God in solitude and in then in community. Some struggled, feeling that they would run out of time to address everything on the agenda. Instead, they finished the planned three day agenda in about a day-and-a-half. Their hearts were on the same page. They felt they had clearer discernment of God’s leading. They spent far less time in the kinds of disagreements that might make the agenda take longer.

We sometimes believe that time given to reflecting on scripture and praying in community as a church or ministry team will diminish the ministry. It sounds a little crazy when you look at it written there, but that belief lingers in a lot of our hearts. It’s an addition/subtraction view of the work of ministry. Less hours on ministry work will produce less fruit. But what if doing the “first thing” of communion with God together is a multiplication approach to fruitfulness? What if the fewer hours left after I’ve given first attention to first things means that my message preparation, event planning, problem solving, etc. are far more creative and Spirit-guided than they would have been otherwise? This has been our experience.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Think of your own ministry, whether in a paid or volunteer role. How much time do you spend in leadership or planning gatherings actually enjoying the scriptures and praying for one another? How might God be inviting you to practice “seeking Him first” in the midst of leadership meetings?
  • Perhaps you are part of a leadership gathering that you don’t lead. How might you enrich the meeting by sharing something meaningful from your own time in scripture that day with the others? How might your life be a catalyst for spiritual transformation?

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Looking Back: Thoughts on a Protestant Order


Yesterday was full and good day of ministry. I began by enjoying coffee with a worship pastor friend with whom I meet every other Thursday to share our lives with one another. Then, I helped lead a day retreat in Orange, CA for a number of Christian leaders from the area. I never cease to be amazed at the creative compassion of God in how He expresses Himself to His beloved sons and daughters. Then, I ended the day speaking to the InterVarsity chapter at University of California at Irvine. I came home tired and grateful.

Tomorrow, I’ll lead another one of our “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” events at Creekside Christian Fellowship in Irvine, CA. Then, I’ll preach at the three Sunday services at the Ventura (CA) Vineyard on the theme of “Prayer: A Relationship with God”. I’d be grateful for your prayers.

I so long to be part of a wider movement of Christ followers who share a common life of intimacy with God, love for one another and shared engagement in Christ’s work in His world. Below is a link to a post from January on what such a movement might look like.

Read more of “Thoughts on a Protestant Order

Buy a copy of The Yoke of Christ on Amazon.com

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Looking Back: Church and Ministry Renewal


Today, I’m leading “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” at Flood/S.A.A.M. near downtown Sacramento. This is the town where I grew up. Would you pray for about twenty who will be spending three or four hours alone with God in nearby parks or on the church grounds?

Meanwhile, below is a link to a post from February about how God uses leaders to bring about transformation in groups. You might be surprised what does and doesn’t help.

Read more of “Church and Ministry Renewal

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The Transforming Power of Remembering Our Stories


One expanding arena of our work in The Leadership Institute has been in organizational transformation. Recently, Paul Jensen pointed me to a quotation in Evil and the Justice of God (Intervarsity, 2006), where N. T. Wright says, “As Walter Wink has argued strongly in his major work on the powers, there is a great deal to be said for the view that all corporate institutions have a kind of corporate soul, an identity which is greater than the sum of its parts, which can actually tell the parts what to do and how to do it. This leads to the view that in some cases at least, some of these corporate institutions-whether they be industrial companies, governments or even (God help us) churches–can become so corrupted with evil that the language of ‘possession’ at a corporate level becomes the only way to explain the phenomena before us (p. 18, emphasis mine).”

Wright and Jensen are careful about explicitly referencing the demonic in relation to Christian organizations, but there can be patterns in any organization that look more unholy than holy, unloving than loving, ungraced than graced. Christian organizations may find themselves desiring a deeper integrity as it relates to practicing God’s presence in their individual and shared life together. One of the tools that has proven fruitful is remembering and telling founding stories. In any church, ministry, mission, movement or denomination, there are stories about how it came to be. There are often powerful God dynamics illustrated in those stories. Over time, a community may lose touch with those God stories. When this happens, a community forgets who they are and Who God is among them.

A basic biblical version of this dynamic is the way in which Israel told and retold their own Exodus story, remembering together (and often) how God had delivered them from centuries of slavery in a miraculous way through the Red Sea. Whenever they lost track of that story, they lost track of their unique relationship with God. So the story needed to be told and retold.

What are some of your own earliest God stories? How well do you remember them? How often do you remember them?

If you are in any kind of ministry leadership, what are some of the founding stories of your organization? How might remembering them be a source of renewal and encouragement for your community?

Buy a copy of Evil & the Justice of God on Amazon.com