Jun 27, 2012

The Fine Art of Ministry Leadership

As I now get deeper into my 40's, I find myself more and more on the teaching end of ministry to younger ministers that God has entrusted to my care.  One of the things I see in many of them that I recognized in myself many years ago is the tension to get frustrated with the process of doing ministry, especially ministry in long-established churches like the one I currently serve in.  Oftentimes when we are young we forget about taking the time to remember that while we may have all the right theology and all the right methodology, we also have to work through deeply established patterns and procedures.  In some cases, attitudes, values, and behaviors have been ingrained for decades and across many generations.  Somewhere in my 20 year ministry pilgrimage, God began to reveal to me the fine art of leading through some of these difficult waters.  Here are a few lessons about being a leader I find myself passing along often:

1.  Being the leader often means that you see most matters long before everyone else.  That's part of being the leader.  You are in a leadership position probably because you have an ability to see things long before most others do.  It may be that you have a hightened sense of discernment.  It may be because you are much more well-read on the topic than everyone else.  Whatever the case, leadership is about getting everyone else to see the same thing you saw a long time ago.

2.  Being the leader often means that you see things clearer than most everyone else.  Not only can you see long before, but you often have a clearer sense of how things should go and how everything should function.  I often have said, "I always think I am right, and most of the time I am."  That's because I have found that God has given me strong leadership gifts.  Some of this giftedness is the ability to see the big picture of something God has birthed in me much clearer than everyone else.  Leadership is about helping to sketch out the picture for everyone and then begin to color in the lines.  Many times young leaders get so frustrated because the people around them can't see everything like they do.  However, have you taken the time to color in the picture for them?  Work to bring color and clarity before you ask for buy-in.

3.  Being the leader often means that you see things with greater urgency than most everyone else.  This is especially true in the church world.  We are often dealing with matters of eternal consequence. We often deal with matters of deep doctrinal conviction. In a business world if a bad decision is made, it could cost the company a lot of dollars.  In the church world if a bad decision is made, it could cost someone eternity with God. This urgency creates in most leaders a great deal of impatience with people who don't get it.  This impatience can cost us trust and leverage with the very people we are trying to lead.  It's important to learn to distinguish between what is urgent and what is critical.

Learning the fine art of ministry leadership takes time and trial and error.  It requires growing in the area of wisdom which often occurs the longer we work in ministry.  It requires a teachable spirit and praying for God to lead you as you lead others.  However, I have found that this type of leadership is a learned art.  It's not something that you are either born with or not.  Oftentimes it is an acquired skill. The sooner you put these lessons to memory, hopefully, the better your ministry leadership will be. 

Jun 25, 2012

"Viral" by Leonard Sweet - A Book Review

A couple of months ago I received a copy of Leonard Sweet's new book Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival.  I am not an avid reader of all of Sweet's books, but because I am active on Facebook and Twitter, this title intrigued me.  Sweet is a professor at Drew University and one of the leading thinkers on issues related to the church and the culture.  He is extremely intelligent and also a major influence on many in the more postmodern and emerging streams of the church.

Sweet is notorious in his books for basing the themes of the materials around acronyms and this book is no different.  The entire book is a discussion of what Sweet calls the "TGIF" world, which stands for Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook.  This is because these are the major cultural forces in today's social network culture.  Sweet does a masterful job in the opening pages showing how "the times are a' changing".  He does so by describing that currently we are in the merging of two different cultures - what he calls the Guttenbergers and the Googlers.  The Guttenburgers are those who have grown up in an era that was more modern and heavily influenced by words - the printing press era of Johanes Guttenberg.  The Googlers, on the other hand, have grown up primarily in the internet age and the information revolution.  It is really a fascinating read.

Then, in the successive chapters, Sweet describes how each of these four entities are shaping the world we live in.  More importantly, he describes how church leaders and Christians should interpret these events and use them to engage the culture better and spark a real spiritual revival.  Far from seeing "the days gone by" as the best days, Sweet shows how the church is poised to step in and offer the gospel in new and powerful ways.  While I don't agree with much of Sweet's underlying theological positions, I do appreciate his optimism regarding the power of social media.

This book has many strengths.  For people like me who have one foot in both worlds, we can better appreciate many of the cultural changes going on around us through reading Viral.  It helps to shed a great deal of light on sociological areas that many in the church never take the time to research and understand.  This book is written with a great deal of optimism which is a refreshment in a church culture that spends most of our time bemoaning the times and wishing we could go back to the good ol' days.  Theologically, the book is very weak.  Sweet has very little use for traditional methods of preaching and doctrinal silos. There is an amorphous understanding of salvation and the gospel in his writings.  There are few answers given on a practical level as to how established churches can better use social networking to advance the gospel.  Overall, however, the book is an enjoyable and informative read.  It would benefit a lot of pastors who are functionally illiterate about the power of social networking to reach a world that embraced these entities many years ago.  Like many things in the Christian world, we came to the social networking party a few years too late. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Jun 20, 2012

A great day for Baptists

Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention had one of it's finest hours. It has been a much anticipated and hyped up buildup to the election of Fred Luter as our next president.  Luter is being celebrated mostly because he is the first African-American to be elected president of the SBC.  This is a denomination which stated over division among Baptists in colonies whether slave owners could play a significant role in missions efforts.  The issue of slavery led us to withdraw from our Baptist brethren and form a new organization that would become one of the largest denominations and one of the greatest missionary forces on the planet.  The SBC publicly repented years of that poor decision years ago, but still has had a hard time overcoming the stereotype and bringing predominantly Black churches into the SBC.

Luter is the right man for the job, and not just because of the color of his skin.  Fred Luter has been a shining star in the SBC for many years.  He has led a church that has baptized thousands and is a major force in the city of New Orleans.  He has traveled for years preaching on the SBC Evangelism Conference and Annual Meetings circuit.  He is a faithful teacher of God's word and a gracious, humble leader.  Now he will lead our Convention of churches - no small task for such a divided group.

Congratulations Fred Luter and Southern Baptists!  For one brief moment, we stopped our squabbling and posturing and did something right. (Then we started arguing about changing the name)

Jun 19, 2012

Thoughts about my Dad

Yesterday was Father's Day - one of the most underwhelming holidays on our national scene.  As I said in my sermon yesterday, most of the time when it's Mother's Day the pastor preaches on the virtues of godly mothers.  However, on Father's Day, he berates the few dads that actually showed up at church with their families for not doing enough.  Being a father of 4, I am extremely honored to be called "Dad".  As I reflected on Father's Day, I had some thoughts about my Dad I wanted to put on my blog.  However, since I spent all day either at church or traveling on the road to New Orleans, I didn't get the chance.  And since my dad doesn't own a computer and has never been on the Internet in his life and has no idea what a blog is, putting them up a couple of days late won't hurt.

I love my dad.  In many ways, he has become a very good friend.  He was for the most part a fun dad and is a fun grandad to my kids. He has always had an amazing sense of humor and the ability to make friends with almost anyone anywhere he finds himself.  The older I get, the more I turn into my dad.  My wife laughs all the time when we stand next to each other with the same pot bellies.  I say the same statements to my kids that my dad said to me all the time.  I find myself rolling my eyes and sighing just like he used to do whenever my kids or wife are taking too long. 

Here are a few things where my dad's influence shows up the most:
I got my passionate love for Mississippi State sports from him.  Although he grew up in Michigan and moved here in his 20's, my dad quickly adopted the Bulldogs as his favorite team south of the Mason-Dixon.  I remember spending many days with my dad going to Bulldog double headers at Dudy Noble Field.  I remember when MSU defeated then #1 Alabama in 1980 and my dad went screeching down the road blaring the horn.  It isn't often that we talk that something related to sports in Starkville isn't brought up.
I got my love for the game of baseball and all the intricacies of the game from him.  My dad is a baseball trivia junkie.  He loved the Detroit Tigers growing up and still does.  His hero was Al Kaline.  Mine was Pete Rose.  My dad was an umpire for about 20 years because he loved the game.  One of my vivid memories was that my dad subscribed to Baseball Digest all my younger years.  When he would finish with it, he would give it to me.  I would read through the profiles on players, but my favorite was reading the "You Make the Call" section and listening to my dad explain the rules of the game to me. 
I got my fascination with the mail and the postal service from him.  For most of my life, my dad was a postman in Columbus, MS.  He delivered routes all over my hometown and everyone knew "Ol' Blue".  When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered "a postman" because that's what my dad was.  Even to this day, I eagerly go out to the mail box to see what awaits me in there.  When I moved away to seminary, I received a card almost every week from my dad in my post office box.
I learned to love fishing from my dad.  When I was a kid, we would pack up the fishing poles and a bucket of crickets and go fishing for bream and crappie. We would catch dozens of them and then deliver them to the widowed, African-American ladies on his postal route.

For many years, I was concerned about where my dad stood with Jesus.  I came to faith in God in my later teenage years and would often hear from people in my church how much they were praying for my dad.  He didn't go to church often, but he did come to hear me preach my first sermon. A few years ago, my dad was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  It was a very big awakening for him. God used this to draw my dad unto himself.  He found the grace of Christ in his late 50's.  One of my greatest memories in ministry is baptizing my dad and step-mom.

I know you won't read this dad, but I hope you had a great Father's Day and I hope you know how proud I am to be called your son. 

Jun 5, 2012

Father Hunger - A Book Review

Recently I received a copy of the book Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead their Families.  I was looking forward to this book because I thought it was an update to a book I read with the same title by Robert McGee many years ago.  However, when I received the book, I soon noticed that it was a completely different book on the same important topic.  When I first read through the Table of Contents, I thought it wouldn't be a boring read.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  It is written along the same vein as another good book on manhood I recently read, The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips.

This book is a solidly biblical treatment about a major crisis in our culture - a generation that is growing up with no idea of what biblical fatherhood means.  Not only does the author, Doug Wilson, show the usual father crises - absentee fathers, disconnected fathers, etc.  He also shows that there is a disturbing dearth of understanding the biblical role and mandate of fathers.  Wilson's treatment of the biblical role of a father will sound extremely strange to many who would read it. In a culture where being a father is little more than simply engaging in the act of procreation, the concepts and responsibilities outlined by Wilson will be foreign, radical, even oppressive to some.  However, they are deeply true.  The Christ-follower who reads this book from a desire to see God honored will resonate with the truths while at the same time finding them sorely lacking in his or her own life.

Wilson shows how this absence of biblically functioning fathers affects all institutions and areas of society - churches, families, crime, education, and many others.  He uses many examples from Scripture about fathers who understood their role on a deeply personal and biblical level.  He shows how our rejection of God's word as a strong basis in our society has led to a radical realtering of families, the roles of men and women, the moral and spiritiual development of our children, and many other areas.  I found as I was reading this book a great deal of personal sadness.  Our culture is now suffering from many successive generations that have been starving of Father Hunger and it leaves me wondering if things can ever really change.  I pray by God's grace they will. 

Men, this book is hard and painful to read.  It is deep, but it is necessary.  If you are starving from your own personal father issues and want to change the future of yourself and your family, get this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”