Category Archives: Personal Growth

The Habit of Taking Time to Think.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important.

But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development. For the next several weeks, I am focusing on some of those.

I first talked about reading that which broadens and sharpens us. Last week, I focused on listening to those who challenge our thinking.

Today, let’s look at the habit of taking time to think. Richard J. Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, devotes whole chapters to meditation, study, and solitude. The input folks love his chapter on study; introverts value solitude.

I know some of us are external and verbal processors. Some of us are more comfortable planning, thinking ahead, and dreaming. Some are reflective, we journal, and we put things in context. Some are abstract and others more concrete in how we learn and process information; some are sequential, others random.

But regardless of your particular preference, if you don’t take time to put the events of your life together in such a way as to see what God is doing in and through you, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are simply being tossed about by chance or other factors beyond our control. You must have time to process.

You need time unplugged. And in our world we must be intentional about unplugging. It’s not comfortable, we are afraid we will miss something, and it is easy to elevate our own importance and indispensability.

Three years ago, Chris and her brother received some inheritance money. He and his wife planned to spend a week in Sweden and take a Baltic Sea cruise. Chris is half Swedish and half Norwegian. She asked if they wanted company. Sure! So we spent most of three weeks in a part of the world where wifi is everywhere, but you had to buy a meal or a service to get it!

We actually found ourselves unplugged for a good part of our time. That was an unusual experience for me. Unnerving at first, and then eventually, quite refreshing as I focused on the history and culture, time with family, the travel exper-ience, and time to sit and think apart from concerns back home.

Chris took a number of pictures of me sitting on benches, just sitting. This one shows me overlooking an inlet on the North Sea.

They say that men have a compartment in our brains with nothing in it. However true that may be, a leader develops his or her own way of taking the time to think.

 

Charity Toward Those Who Disagree With Us.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important. But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development.

I talked about reading last week. Christian biographies, the works of Christian leaders, other aspects of the Christian life, and issues facing the church today are important. But so is reading the Classics, history, science, and other academic disciplines. It broadens our minds and sharpens our thinking.

So, also, is the habit of listening and engaging with those who disagree with us. I find that most Christians today are comfortable only with reading or talking with those whom we agree. We, actually, are better when we seek out, spend time with, and befriend those not like us.

My neighbor of some 15 years voted for the other guy in every election that I’ve known him. His views and values differ from mine. He reads and gets his input from different sources than I do. We don’t shy away from those areas of disagreement, nor do they define our relationship. I consider John one of my very best friends. We run together. We watch each other’s dogs when they are out of town. We share meals together. His friendship is most important to me.

But that hasn’t always been the case. I made some mistakes years ago in thinking I could change his mind and have him see things my way. But I had to learn not to focus on the differences but on those things that bind us together. Family is incredibly important to him. John and his wife are great parents. They take pride in our neighborhood and are respectful of others. They attend a different church and have involved themselves in mission and community development.

All that to say, the differences have sharpened and expanded each of us, but don’t define our friendship.

The ability to befriend those who think differently is not all that is at stake. It’s also how we actually discuss those differences that will either deepen a friendship or lead to one fractured. Listening without responding, hearing the position and the heart behind it without being defensive, and acknowledging the unspoken feelings and perceptions without posturing are all critical to building the relationship.

We naturally want to win. And by the time we arrive at a place of leadership, we’ve usually been right a good part of the time. But in my reading the Gospels, I find that Jesus usually answers a question with a question; and especially, the challenging ones.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wishing to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life was answered with a question. He gave the right answer and Jesus commended him for it. But the lawyer seeking to justify himself asked another, and that’s when he told this now familiar parable. Jesus ends with another question, which one was his neighbor? Then finally our Lord says, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m struck by what Jesus did not do. He didn’t argue. He didn’t “one up” or blister him with a zinger. He wasn’t cutting or defensive.

How do others receive us? Do we have an edge? Do we need to be right? Can we be charitable with those whom we differ? Do we immerse ourselves in groupthink? Are we afraid of being tainted, or losing control?

At the same time we don’t roll over and play dead. Being confident with our own thoughts and actions while comfortably engaging with those who live and believe differently is a habit of an effective leader.

Spring Coaching Tips

Habits of Leaders: Reading

Welcome to a six-week series of tips on habits of leaders.

A conversation with my son, Rick, this past week was confirmation of this concept I’ve been thinking about for weeks.

Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and long time Cru friend, was known for saying, “A leader is someone who knows where he [or she] is going and can take others along.”

I’m an unlikely candidate for leadership. I don’t conform to the typical profile of a leader–directive, decisive, quick, or charismatic, attracting others to my cause or me. I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. I was one of very few in my extended family or high school to attend college. I am by nature, reticent to lead, slow to process complex information, and easily swayed. I am a true introvert, and slightly bookish! Maybe more than slightly!

So…if God can use me, He can use anyone!

With that said, I want to take the next six weeks to consider some habits of leaders. These are selective, not the ones most consider first. But taking time to think and dream, exercise, being generous, and elevating others are a few habits that have served me well.

Reading is one vitally important habit of leaders. I’ve been on a kick for the last dozen years to read classic literature and history, and recently presidential biographies. I wish I had started earlier.

Currently I’m reading six books—a novel, a presidential biography, a true-life adventure story, two Christian devotionals, and one on the state of the church. I don’t recommend that many at a time. But some are because I am in community, and others are yearlong projects.

I’ve read or listened to 19 books so far this year. I could listen to same classic rock Pandora station when I run or workout, but I’ve found that I enjoy listening to engaging audiobooks. LibriVox offers 10,000 titles in the public domain. They have an app for both iPhone and Android. I can’t tell you how many illustrations or illusions I’ve come across listening to books at zero cost to me.

The yearlong presidential biography I’m working through this year is Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald. I’m in no hurry, just a few pages each day. But at least as far as I’ve read to date, I’ve been able to identify with some of what he experienced. Though he had aspirations, one of our nation’s greatest presidents was a reluctant leader. He was gangling, socially out of place, cautious, and often at a loss with little precedent to follow. He was greeted before he ever arrived in office with seven seceded states and four more ready to follow.

On his journey to Washington to take office, he said, “While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintainance {sic} of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag.” He had been elected President, “by a mere accident, and not through any merit of mine…a mere instrument, an accidental instrument…the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elected to the Presidency,” a man “without a name, perhaps without a reason why I should have a name.” P. 275.

Abraham Lincoln had no pedigree and had little to commend his leadership. But he chose to take responsibility. The prophet Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Nevertheless, he offered himself, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:5,8 NIV.

I am the Chairman of the Governing Elders in my church. I did not seek the role. But I seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and I’ve always tried to be available to the Lord. I’ve never led at such a level with a pastoral staff of over 100 years in our church alone. But this position has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. While it keeps me trusting the Lord, and we have some challenges, I have thoroughly enjoyed the growth process and seeing God’s leading and answered prayers.

Reading Lincoln’s biography has given me perspective and a long view of leadership. The true-life adventure story I’m reading is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, that I’ve mentioned here. We all have assigned or work-related stuff to read, but reading, is a habit that is expanding me and helping me to be a lifelong disciple, learner.

So what are you reading? Here are some ideas if you need some.

Spring Coaching Tips

Acclimatization.

I passed a car today with a bumper stick that read, “It’s not all so ‘bumper sticker slogan’ simple.”

That’s true in politics, business, the Christian life, and, even re-organizational design.

I’m reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, detailing the 1996 expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest and the tragedy on the descent.

The month-long process of “acclimatization”, adjusting physiologically to the rarified atmosphere of high altitudes, was far from a straight line up the summit.

Krakauer was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to join an expedition to Mt. Everest, elevation 29,028 feet, and then to write an article about its commercialization. Having never ascended above 17,200 feet, he spent a year in preparation before joining the team in India in late March 1996 who would then take him to the summit.

They arrived at the 17,600 foot high Base Camp on April 12. At that altitude, the oxygen level is 50% of that at sea level. At the summit, it decreases to 1/3 of that at sea level. While the human body will adjust, it can take weeks to acclimatize. To do so they would need to reach various camps spaced about 2000 feet vertically up the mountain.

Krakauer’s expedition ascended and descended to these camps with varying rates and duration:

  • Base Camp to Camp 1, and then back to Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1 and 2, then back to 1 and Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1, 2, and 3, then back to 2, 1, and Base.

After a series of attempts and days of rest and recovery from different altitude complications, Krakauer reached the summit on May 10, more than a month after arriving at the Base Camp. He only remained at the top of the world for 5 minutes; hardly time to bask in his achievement.

In Romans 8:12-17, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” NIV

Different tenses indicate past facts, present realities, and future outcomes in that passage. Past events such as Christ’s work on our behalf and our response of faith, make a difference in how we live today. And these present realities in our life of faith determine a future character and destiny. They are interconnected.

While time is linear, our walk of faith is not. We take steps forward and back, forward again two steps, then back. Sometimes we experience great strides, but other times it’s really tough slogging. There are moments of clarity, as well as dark perplexity. And we pray for times of rest and recovery along the way. But in all of that, growth is happening, “acclimatization”, if you will, is taking place, and Jesus is becoming both the object of our affection and our source of satisfaction if we take His yoke upon us.

There is joy in the journey. Do we believe that? What we are experiencing in our ministry today has required our own spiritual acclimatization. Only as we submit to His lordship and “keep seeking the things above” (Colossians 3:1) are we able to take higher ground.

And finally, from “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, the one entitled “Openness” reads,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

 

Keys to establishing new believers.

Many of us are familiar with The God Ask by Steve Shadrach, founder of Student Mobilization, co-founder of The Traveling Team, and currently, Executive Director of Center for Mission Mobilization.

Some time ago, I picked up Shadrach’s first book, The Fuel and The Flame. It’s a handbook on basic campus ministry and highlights the essentials of evangelism, discipleship and movement development.

His chapter “Invest Yourself in Establishing Young Believers” contains five prerequisites that were the very things I learned in the mid-70s as a student at Penn State.

1. Follow Up Is Essential

Every parent can tell you how absolutely helpless a newborn baby is. But, frankly, most parents are not prepared for what will become a life-long task of growing their baby to adulthood. Shadrach says, many of us want the glory and excitement of seeing a person come to faith, but we’re not willing to pay the price of following up with them…We can say we trust God to work in new converts’ lives and turn a blind eye to their needs, but how you pray for them and what you do with them will be critical in their initial development.” Pp. 149-50.

We know those first 24 hours are critical to get back to them with assurance of salvation. We don’t know how many doubts they entertain or the seriousness of their questions after we leave them and they start to mull over the decision they just made. They switched sides in a raging spiritual battle. Their non-believing friends will sow the seeds of doubt that the enemy will seek to cultivate.

It should be a given that we meet with them again the next day with assurance of salvation and answers to any questions they have about sin, forgiveness, prayer, etc. Get them started reading the Gospel of John and ask them to write down any questions they have for the next time.

One more thing: Have them sign up with StartingWithGod.com. That content and emails will work reinforce your own nurturing.

2. Each Individual Has Infinite Worth

Shadrach says, “it is so important that you take the lead in helping form their values and convictions—before the cement hardens.” Like wet cement, what is impressed early on will become permanent. “Consistent individual attention is key to helping them begin their new lives right and giving them a healthy long-term perspective of what a New Testament Christian really looks like. Don’t just point new Christians to large meetings or retreats, hoping that somehow they’ll find their way.” P. 154.

3. Major in Building the Basics

You know how important it is to have assurance of salvation, how to know and experience God’s love and forgiveness, how to be filled and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, how to apply the principles of growth, including Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and putting their faith in action as they tell others about Christ. After almost 45 years of walking with Christ, I keep coming back to these in drawing near to the Lord.

I would commend the work that our R&D Team has done on a new Collaborative Discipleship process. It’s currently undergoing final revisions and is scheduled to go live May 12th on Cru.org. I encourage you to sign up to help test it and give your feedback. I also commend the Thrive Studies.

4. Use Groups to Help Establish Believers

Shadrach says, “Small groups are the backbone of your ministry…Much of Jesus’ discipleship took place in the context of a small group. P. 163. There is something about a learning environment where questions are encouraged and answers discovered together that builds faith. One of the very best things that helped seal my own commitment to Christ was going home the summer after I came to Christ and leading a basic Bible study in my church. It seems too simple to go over the basics listed above. But it is surprising how few Christians can articulate them.

5. Disciples Are Made, Not Born

This point references Walt Henrichsen’s book of the same name. When I read the book as a student, I developed a deep conviction that it isn’t the natural talent that we press into service, “not born,” but God will use us to “make” disciples. We are all in process.

I think we’ve become casual in our ministry about the critical first steps in establishing new believers in the faith. In preparing our students to be on their own for the summer, and as we plan ministry in the fall, let’s be intentional about training disciple-makers.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Another use for an effective tool.

I don’t know about you, but I can sometimes get in a rut with how I do ministry. I usually see our tools having a single purpose for which they were designed.

Recently, my wife, Chris, was on a coaching call. Rachel graduated three years ago and is seeking to live missionally in her workplace and neighborhood. Rachel leads a study of middle school Christian girls. But their behavior doesn’t always match their profession. Rachel knew they needed to understand the filling the Holy Spirit, but struggled to bring the message home to them.

Now, Chris is very creative. She is great at seeing possibilities where none appear to exist. (Oh, and BTW, I am not trying to earn brownie points here! Just telling it like it is.) Chris suggested taking the Soularium cards and asking the questions we would ask in an evangelistic setting. “What cards best illustrate your life now?” “Why?” “Which cards do you wish would illustrate your life?” “Why?” And from that discussion launch into what God would do with lives completely yielded to Him so that He could work unhindered in them, or what we would commonly say as being filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When Chris told me about her conversation, she said she knew most of us look at Soularium as an evangelism tool primarily. But sometimes we can be limiting and not see a tools’ versatility. What might God do outside the box?

Perhaps you have discovered a creative way to use one of our tools and have seen God use it. I’d love to hear about it.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

 

Summer Survival.

One of the many priorities we have in campus ministry at this time of year is preparing students for the summer.

“Let’s face it. Summers can pose a major challenge to our faith and obedience to Christ.

So begins the first article in the Summer Survival Guide.

Summers can be:

  • a very spiritually isolating time because you are away from the environment and friends that have helped you grow spiritually this past school year.
  • or a great experience as you see your faith tested and increased and take some key steps on your own (1 Peter 1:17)

What makes the difference? The decisions you and your students make now can put them in a position of advantage and strength going into the summer. “As a Christian, we can embrace challenges the summer brings because we recognize the opportunity to trust God in new ways and see our faith grow in ways that we would have never seen otherwise.”

The Summer Survival Guide provides perspective and resources to help make the difference. The introductory article of the survival kit tells about three essentials with practical helps and further resources:

  • self-discipline
  • the right fellowship
  • daily time with God and His Word

Personal growth happens when there is the right combination of personal desire and conducive environment. Both are needed. Many of our students will be going back into less than ideal environments. Let’s do the best job we can to prepare all of our students to grow in Christ this summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016