Monday, October 25

Thoughts on Leadership - Tension is Good

The theme of Catalyst, which our staff attended a few weeks ago was "Tension is Good." That seems counter-intuitive at first glance, but if we think about it we realize that it is tension that allows us to grow, mature, move forward, and reach new territories - both personally and organizationally. It is the tension in a violin or guitar string that allows it to make music. It is the tension in a pole vaulter's pole that sends him over a crossbar three times his height.

Tension isn't a negative in and of itself. We need it. But we need to learn how to properly deal with it personally and organizationally. Tension can produce opportunity or stress, all depending on how we choose to respond to it. As I consistently tell my students, "All stress if self-induced." Stress is a result of how we choose to respond to tense or difficult "opportunities". (I'm not sure my students believe me.)

Here are some thoughts on tension for us who serve as leaders. They come from a variety of sources, with major contributions from Andy Stanley.

Every leader has a motivating tension. That's what keeps us moving and pressing forward - the thing that drives us to achieve. What is the motivating tension in your life? How can you harness it to be more effective - not just professionally or organizationally, but personally and spiritually?

Tension adds depth to our story. A movie without tension is a boring movie. The tension and its resolution is what makes a good story a good story. A life without tension is boring. It is often lived without a sense of our need for God or testimony of God's work in our life. The tension in your life enhances your dependence on God, gives Him room to work, and adds depth to the story of your relationship with God.

Every leader should learn to overcome the fear of tension. Leaders shouldn't dread tension but realize that it is an inherent part of leadership. In fact, tension tells you a lot about your organization and its needs.

It is impossible to love people and avoid tension.

Our role as a leader is to break through the tension to something significant. Tension is necessary for any organization that wants to make progress. Great organizations learn to use tension. The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of our life and organization.

Tension is a powerful platform to clarify what is important. Tension helps us identify our priorities and the things in our life or organization that interfere with those priorities.

Friday, October 22

Thinking Biblically - Thoughts From Francis Chan

Francis Chan has not only been one of the most popular Christian speakers and writers in America over the past couple of years, he is a man who models what he talks about. His books, Crazy Love and Forgotten God, are well worth the read.

In April, Chan resigned the mega-church he led in Southern California. He and his family sold their house and last Saturday moved to India without (as I understand it) a detailed plan. Their goal is just to follow the Holy Spirit and his leading.

Earlier this month, Chan spoke at Catalyst. Here is a clip of that message. As you watch, ask yourself:

What is there in my life that gives evidence that I am thinking and living Biblically?

What is there that the rest of the world would consider weird because it is shaped by God and not our culture?

Would your life fit well inside the pages of Scripture or would it look weird in that context?

Wednesday, October 20

Sharing My Birthday - Clean Water for Others

One of the great things about the Catalyst Conference is that they make a point to share about world needs with the leaders who are there. Last year, the issues that were highlighted were adoption and micro-finance. I, personally, love the concept of micro-finance - providing small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries to help them start businesses to provide for their families. I would encourage you to check out organizations like Kiva and Hope International. My wife and I have loaned through Kiva over the past couple of years and have seen our small investment help three or four families in different parts of the world.

This year's highlighted issues at Catalyst were human trafficking and clean water. Did you know that:

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

In light of this, we were challenged to use our birthdays to provide clean water. So I'm taking that challenge. My 52nd birthday is coming up next month and I am asking friends, family, former students, and anyone who reads this blog to help with this project. I don't need another birthday present, but there are a lot of children who need clean water. My goal is to raise $5000 - the average cost to build a well that will serve 250 people.

If you could give $52 for my 52nd birthday - or $26 or $10 or $520 - please go to my Charity:water page. It would be a huge blessing to me and an even greater blessing to those it will serve.

Wednesday, October 13

Change, Restorers, Generations, and The Corner - Catalyst Day 2

It was my intention so post this earlier, but travel and schedule kept me from getting it done. Here are a few more highlights from last week's Catalyst Conference:

Seth Godin on change:

"Change comes from people who accept responsibility without demanding authority."

"If you want to succeed, you have to be wiling to fail. In fact, you have to be willing to embrace failure as a benefit."

Gabe Lyons on the next generation of Christians:

"Restorers are provoked to engage a broken world. Rather than complain, they create. They're not critics, but creators. They respond to calling where they are."

Craig Groeschel on generational tension:

"Older generation: don't resent or criticize the younger generation. Invest in them and empower them.... Delegate authority. This produces leaders."

"Younger generation: Don't over-estimate what God wants to do through you in the short-run. Don't under-estimate what God can do through you in the long-run."

"Honor publicly leads to influence privately." Andy Stanley

"When we honor Jesus, we will learn to honor those he has put in authority over us. Respect is earned; honor is freely given."

T.D. Jakes on getting out of our comfort zone:

"Leadership is about getting 'off the corner' and the community where we are comfortable, with its limited worldview."

"Are we armed with the language that reaches the masses or a language that alienates the world?"

"If you live in a room where you're the smartest person, get out of that room."

Thursday, October 7

A Bowl of Stew and a Biblical Life - Catalyst Day 1

Today and tomorrow, our staff is attending the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. Catalyst is a gathering of about 13,000 Christian leaders and always features a packed schedule of some of America's greatest speakers and thinkers in the areas of ministry and leadership. Today's line-up included Andy Stanley, Daniel Pink, Christine Caine, Seth Godin, Beth Moore, and Francis Chan (as well as shorter interviews with several others). This year's theme is "Tension is Good" and each speaker shared ideas that were stretching and valuable. Here are a couple of the highlights for me:

As he traditionally does, Andy Stanley led off the conference. Stanley is one of my favorite Christian leaders and I always seem to resonate with what he has to say. Today he talked about the tensions of leadership that are associated with our internal appetites - things such as progress, responsibility, respect, winning, achievement, etc. Regarding these appetites, he said:

1. God created them and sin distorted them.
2. Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied.
3. Your appetites always whisper "now" and never "later".

He then took us to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25 and talked about how Esau gave up his birthright - his future and his legacy - for a bowl of stew to satisfy his appetite. He then brought us to the point: Would you trade your future and legacy for a bowl of stew? Any of us could and many of us have.

So what is the bowl of stew for which you would be tempted to trade your future and your legacy? And how are you going to avoid falling for the deceptions that could lead you to that choice?

According to Stanley, we need to reframe our appetites in the context of what God has called us to and the future and legacy we desire and then refrain from trading that calling, future, and legacy for the "bowl of stew" that we think will satisfy.

Francis Chan, maybe the most popular Christian speaker in America right now (though he and his family have sold their home and are moving to Asia next week), closed the evening. Chan is a very "winsome" speaker - easy to like and listen to - and what he says is an obvious overflow of his walk with God. Tonight he gave us this (uncomfortable) idea to think on and pray about...

We say that we think and live Biblically, but if we put our life into the pages of the book of Acts, would it fit? Or would it seem weird and out of place? A lot of what seems normal in the Church and in the lives of Christians would seem weird in Acts. It wouldn't fit. And much of what was normal behavior for the Christians in Acts would be out of place today and we would consider it weird or radical.

So who are we more like? Jesus and the Christians and Church we read about in the Bible? Or our culture and the people we live around today?

The "bowl of stew" and a Biblical life both issues with which we need to wrestle. Let me know what you think about any of these thoughts.

Tuesday, October 5

Expanding the View of Christianity

Here are a couple of recent articles on the spiritual views of young adults. I thought I would share them with you and see what you think about them.

USA Today ran an article a couple of weeks ago calling the spirituality of young adults "wide, shallow, and compelling". This generation is more eclectic and more skeptical than previous ones. But they do have an interest in engaging Scripture (as one of many interests) and a desire to get involved with the world and to find ways to help people who are struggling.

Gabe Lyons, one of the authors of the excellent book unChristian, has a new book (released today) called The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America. Though I haven't had a chance to read it (I'm hoping to score a copy at the Catalyst Conference this week), this interview that he did on Ed Stetzer's blog is very interesting. Here is some of what he says about the next generation of Christians:

"Instead of discovering something new, they've actually recovered a key understanding of the Gospel that has largely gone missing in many parts of Christian teaching and doctrine in the last century--the idea of "restoration." They believe that part of their responsibility in following Jesus is to lead lives that are prioritized around restoring broken people, systems, schools, neighborhoods, marriages and a variety of other things to reflect God's original intention for his creation. They emphasize seeing the image of God in every person they encounter, even if that person wouldn't acknowledge it. They don't only care about social good, but see that as part of a holistic faith that naturally opens the door to much deeper conversations with their friends about the meaning of life, who we are as human beings and what God's best is for his creations."

Both pieces bring home the point that we need to find ways to engage students - both believers and unbelievers - in the places where Scriptures intersect our world. So many students arrive on a campus with a compartmentalized faith (it only applies to what they do on a Sunday or at a Bible study) and an overly personalized faith (it is only about "Jesus and me" and the Gospel is solely about me getting to heaven). Unfortunately, much of our programming in churches and campus ministries just adds to the problem. Young adults need to see that the Gospel affects all parts of our world and that God is in the process of reconciling all things to himself (Colossians 1:15-20). This will help those who are not yet Christians realize that following Jesus is much more than religious ritual. When you submit yourself to him and begin to follow him, he will involve you in this mission and purpose of reconciliation. It will also help those who are Christians to realize that our understanding of the Gospel has often been far too limited. This process of reconciliation has implications beyond what happens when I die. It affects how I live and how I engage with a hurting world.

Friday, October 1

Spiritual Jazz: Discipline

Those who aren't familiar with jazz often have the misconception that improvisational jazz is music without rules. Musicians just do what they want without regard to the usual structure that you find in other forms of music. The reality is that this incredible music is made by very disciplined musicians who have spent years honing their craft and that it is built on the same musical structures you find in others genres.

Though jazz musicians often improvise, their "stylings" are always done within the "orthodox" laws of music - the rules of harmony, melody, rhythm, etc. Even though they may not have studied it formally, these musicians know musical theory. They know what notes fit together in the key being played. They know rules of meter and tempo. It is their knowledge of the "truths" of music that allows them to play together in harmony and beauty rather than in disharmony and in tones that distract rather than enthrall. The music really isn't a free-for-all. It is the result of "scholars" who know the structure of their medium by heart.

On top of that, they have developed their skills as musicians by hours and hours of practice before they ever hit the stage. Any professional musician would tell you of the hours they spent in secret - practicing technique, scales, etc. They have given themselves to the discipline of learning their craft. And it is those hours of secret discipline that frees them to improvise when the spotlight is on.

One other regarding the discipline of jazz: The knowledge gained through experience and the abilities honed through discipline have to be used in humble cooperation with the others in the ensemble. If the musicians are not willing to "submit" to one another, there would be chaos as musicians played over one another and forced their way to the forefront. The knowledge and skill has to be tempered with unity and humility to produce the result that all desire.

The spiritual applications, I hope, are fairly obvious. If we desire to live a jazz-styled spiritual life - one that is free to improvise and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit - these characteristics have to be true of us. There are Christians who say they are following God but are not willing to learn the truths of Scripture that provide the "structure" for life and the Church. The truths of the Christian faith aren't just open for everyone to interpret for themselves. The Bible teaches us what is true and what is right and how to live. Our lives need to be lived in submission to those truths. If we don't, we will find ourselves in a climate of division and distrust. In other words, the religious climate that the Church finds itself in today.

How do we learn these structures that allow for cooperation and unity? Through the disciplines that hone our knowledge and skills - such things as the study of and meditation on the Word of God, time with God in secret prayer, the guidance of spiritual mentors, etc. These spiritual disciplines develop in us the knowledge and skills that allow us to discern the voice of the Spirit and give us the ability to go where he is leading with confidence.

Over all of these things, we have to put on the love and humility that allows us to hear what God is saying to us through others and to work with them to produce the desired results - the honoring of God and the furthering of his Kingdom.