Rip Those Pages Out

Last week, over a simple meal, some friends and I were discussing the merits of the Old Testament.  Can we as followers of Christ in the 21st century do without the Old Testament?  What is the real value of this text to the person in the pew?  As a Mennonite, I often struggle with the “God as Warrior” image of the Old Testament.  Or even the “vengeful God” imagery.  It would be so easy to rip those pages out of the Canon.  And yet, there they are glaring at us. 

Johnny is a close friend of mine who lives in South East Asia.  He frequently shares stories of his displaced friends living on the Thai-Burma border.  Johnny is an ardent promoter of just peace making.  This deeply rooted belief has put him on various government target lists.  He has been prohibited from visiting dear friends and places and even spent time in prison for this belief.  As he watches his displaced friends on the border continuing to suffer, he asks me (his institutional administrator friend), “as a leader, how often do you consider how your decision impacts the poor?” 

This question came roaring back to me last week.  Here we were in Lancaster County, USA discussing the merits of the Old Testament wanting to rip pages out of the Bible to suit our perspective on just peace making.  Meanwhile, the displaced in SE Asia find comfort in the arms of a God who is on their side and would be willing to fight and take revenge on those who were continually maiming, raping and killing their families.  So, if we are to truly seek the welfare of the poor, should we be ripping pages out of the Bible or releasing our dogmas to God? – JM

“You Farted”

It happened at the grocery store. I thought I was being discreet and subtle as I went about purchasing a few items in the fresh produce aisle. But alas the ears of a four year old boy were not fooled by my cool misdemeanour. The tyke’s grin could not have been broader as he pointed and giggled his accusation, “You farted!”

Now, the next few seconds are delicate ones for a leader caught in the act of a minor indiscretion. Responses can range from ignore the incorrigible in your midst through frown disapprovingly, excuse yourself, laugh along, to deny, deny, deny. None of these responses are right or wrong except perhaps the last one but on the whole these surprise encounters in the day do reflect our moods, mindsets and worldviews.

Leaders are not saints so we know that we will make mistakes. Others around us are watching how we deal with mistakes both small and large. Leaders get to set the example even when they are not in a leadership situation; even in the grocery store.

This doesn’t have to be your response but I find a little self-depreciating humour goes a long ways to get me through the day. Not everything can be a laughing matter but my colleagues know that I make mistakes and that I’m willing to own them.

So what are you going to do the next time you are caught in the act of a minor indiscretion or one of those less than saintly little mistakes that occur throughout everyone’s day? – BB

You Can’t Save The World

For one day this holiday season or perhaps even two or three days leaders need to do their utmost to forget that they are leaders. Your world can hopefully survive without you for a little while.

I have vivid memories of my extended family coming together at Christmas for the exchange of gifts and sitting down for the turkey feast. Every year the family would turn to my uncle Lester, a pastor, and ask him to say the prayer before the meal. After all he was the Holy man in our midst. Every year my uncle would resist this invitation. As a child I didn’t understand his reticence but I think I get it now. On that festive day with family he didn’t want to be the professional pastor. He just wanted to be Uncle Lester. He didn’t want to be the leader all of the time.

In this season it is important to find rest. Even presidents and prime ministers get away with family and friends. I hope that in those settings they are treated as just one of the crew instead of the captain of the ship. The challenges and the joys of leading will still be there after your retreat from the front lines of leadership.

Every leader needs to escape lest they start to believe they’re indispensible. It’s Christmas so please surround yourself with family and/or friends or perhaps you just need to be alone with a good book. Do anything but lead. Merry Christmas! – BB

A Leaderless Occupy Movement?

An American business leader recently suggested in an interview on PBS that the Occupy movement was leaderless. I haven’t done any research or made personal contacts with people in the Occupy movement. I only know what the news media tells me and they haven’t yet latched onto a captivating celebrity but I do know one thing; A movement is never leaderless.

Occupy may not have one main charismatic Moses like figure in the middle of the fray but that hardly makes it leaderless. Leaders aren’t always found in the spotlight. Often they are the caring, thoughtful little guy who shuns the camera and the microphone.

 Troy Watson, a friend and colleague, recently visited an Occupy site and he saw leaders. Troy is a prophetic, provocative guy and this is what he wrote. “I think it is clear where Jesus stands on the oppressive economic and political systems of power in our world today. I find it hard to believe any Christian could think our current capitalist democracy is the kingdom of God Jesus envisioned for our planet. Jesus proclaimed a kingdom of selfless love, egalitarian ethics, holistic values and an economy of compassion for the ‘least of humanity’. Is this not similar to what the Occupy movement is calling for?”

I find myself strangely encouraged by Troy’s insights into the Occupy movement. To live into that kingdom requires leaders. Leaders who are passionate, wise and courageous and I believe most of all leaders who aren’t larger than life. – BCB

ReThink Everything

What we plant determines what we grow.  Farmers understand this but for an urban guy like me, it has taken a while to figure out.

For 25 years, I’ve been involved in what evangelical-Anabaptists refer to as, “church planting.”  The Christian world can be divided into those who think church planting is a good idea and those who are actually doing it.  I’ve lived in both camps, and I think that some of my fellow-travelers (myself included!) have been involved in a great adventure in missing the point.

 Leaders have engaged in church planting as institutional formation.  We focus on executing strategies that attract a collection of people who we hope find spiritual meaning in the church plant’s wonderful programs.  Growing a church requires the planter to commit to sustaining program excellence, manage costs, and form relational bonds through customer intimacy.  Mission agencies sustain this model by offering venture capital to the church plant with the expectation that a sustainable and self-funding church will emerge that supports the mission agency in return.  In short, the system demands we plant churches as institutions.

What if we did gospel planting instead?  What might it look like if we see every follower of Jesus as a church planter and believe every church can plant another church?  What if we incarnated the victory news that Jesus is Lord of everything?  

Gospel planting requires leaders to re-think everything:  our definitions of mission and church; our leadership cultivation and discipleship formation; and the way we use money in the formation of church plants.

Our current church planting models grow from the same Christendom assumptions that have informed much of the way we have done church over the past 1700 years.  Instead, let’s start planting the gospel, and experience the church fruit that grows from that seed.

 Scary, huh? – JW

“Say it ain’t so Joe”

Leaders need to remember that trust is hard to acquire and easily broken. This week Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State University. If you don’t know the story simply Google his name. The short version is that this much loved, legendary, well respected coach of an American college football team did not do nearly enough to report the criminal actions of an alleged pedophile who was a senior member of his staff.

We earn trust one rung at a time as we climb the ladder of trust with the people around us. However when that trust is broken we don’t just lose it one rung at a time. When you fall off a ladder you hurdle all the way to the bottom, the same is true of trust. It is a delicate thing and no leader gets to abuse it and survive for very long.

The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Boy Scouts of America are two large institutions that have been in the headlines for breaking trust along with a whole host of other church, business and political leaders. The news cycle provides leaders with regular reminders that looking the other way or if I ignore ‘it’, ‘it’ will go away doesn’t suffice.

PLEASE use this current tragic story to be certain you, as a leader, have a firm grip on the trust ladder. At the very least you can do what Joe failed to do; muster the courage to protect the children and youth in your sphere of influence. – BB

Audacity!

As the US economy continues to hobble along, it is clear a major issue is that of job security.  In the past few months there have been a spate of layoffs among several church agencies in our area.  These layoffs have frequently been carried out in the name of developing “more effective program.”  And I would agree there is some truth to these claims and wishes. 

However it does not minimize the pain felt by individuals who have been sidelined in the process or, put differently, not included in the new vision for the agency.  At times such as this I am reminded of well-known church administered who was released from service after three decades of service because he was deemed “irrelevant” to the institutions future.  The shock of the moment left this dedicated servant paralyzed.  However he recovered and found a way to envision a new place to engage in God’s ministry with the poor.  In the latter part of his life, his wife passed away leaving him yet again spiraling downward.  It was during this time of deep trial that he found the wisdom to pen for himself, “Do you have the AUDACITY to believe the best is yet to come?”  Anyone who has lost meaningful employment or a loved one will understand the ridiculous polarity of this question to the context they face.  And yet I wonder if this is a question we should be asking in times of both deep pain and enormous joy.  – JM

Jim and Casper

It sounds like the set up for a classic joke:  “A Christian and an Atheist walk into a church together…”  But it’s no joke, it actually happened.  In the summer of 2006, Jim Henderson, a former pastor, and now publishing executive went on a road trip with his best friend, Matt Casper, an avowed Atheist.  They visited eleven churches across the USA:  mega-churches with superstar preachers and mainline congregations with mind-numbing liturgy and an Anabaptist-related house church (way to go, Jason!).  They pooled their insights into a book:  Jim & Casper Go to Church (Barna:  2007).  www.amazon.com

At the end of the book, Jim reflects: “Casper saw and experienced – over and over and over again – what Christians do when they do church.  He saw it done with big budgets and no budgets, in large stadiums and in small buildings.  The same format repeated itself regardless of the setting.  The greet-sing-preach-collect-present form played out in front of us with unrelenting predictability.  And when it was all done, he would turn to me and ask, ‘Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’”

Ouch.

Jesus told us to go into the world and share the victory news that God does not hate anyone for anything; that God loves everyone, all the time.  Only then can we baptize – forming communities of Jesus followers.  Together we figure out how to live faithfully, in love with Jesus.

Yes, sometimes we get it backwards. We figure out how people should live; try with all our might to assemble a group of those folks; then tell them God loves them.

Is that what Jesus told us to do?  What would it look like to start a church whose focus was not on the “show” or the “shoulds” but on the good news?

Burning to Call Out Leaders

“God loves you…and Jeff has a wonderful plan for your life!”   

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that leaders must assist others into leadership roles and into God’s missional purpose.  Of course, the struggle is in trying to make sure that the invitation I’m extending to others is just that – an invitation, not an expectation. 

This is not an exact science.  There have been plenty of “oops!” moments over the years.  As I’ve invited others to lead I’ve been burned on occasion and I’ve accidently burned others. We all know being burned is painful. Nevertheless, I won’t quit. I can’t stop seeing the possibilities that emerge when someone yields their leadership potential to the transforming power of God.

I’m reminded of Moses, once a powerful member of Pharaoh’s household, now reduced to tending sheep for his father-in-law.  Moses is getting on in years and while he has married well and raised a family, his dreams have been unfulfilled.  Then, out of nowhere, God in the burning bush asks Moses to throw his staff on the ground.  It is the act of letting go of those last vestiges of Moses’ self identity which allows Moses to become what God called him to be; a leader in Israel’s redemption.

God still has a mission – the redemption of everyone and everything.  God is still calling people to lead the effort for the redemption of everyone and everything.  Perhaps the voice doesn’t come from the burning bush but the voice is still very much there. Or maybe God needs us to be the burning bush calling a modern day Moses to lead. – Jeff

Jesus Spring

Last week in the UK a programme was broadcast on BBC2 called ‘How Facebook Changed the World’.  It investigated and charted how social networking underpinned the revolutions and uprisings that have become known as the ‘Arab Spring’.  The ability for young men and women to circulate information about the injustices they witnessed, galvanise support and communicate the whereabouts of demonstrations enabled a swift and effective liberation movement of like-minded people, particularly in the initial nations such as Tunisia and Egypt. 

This week-end I was invited to share a story at a conference called Future Church.  Organised by the Northumbria Community and the Anabaptist Network it wanted to explore the factors that will be impacting church in 20 years time. In part of my story I imagined how church might look with two further decades of social media behind it.  Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson in their recent book On the Verge which calls itself  ‘a journey into the apostolic future of the church’ state that ‘the digital era, with the associated network thinking and acting, sets us up to experience movement again in a significant way.’ (p32)

We talk with longing in our hearts about church as a movement rather than an institution but I do wonder how many of us mainstream church-type people are ready for or indeed would welcome such a spontaneous and seemingly out of control movement of Jesus followers – just regular people trying to peacefully do what Jesus would do – a ‘Jesus Spring’ if you like! 

Hirsch and Ferguson go on to say that ‘Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake.’  This week I find myself asking what type of leadership we need to begin practising that could  facilitate, release and cope with mass levels of disorganised but holy Jesus chaos. 

In my story I included this rather wonderful ‘parable for a church tucked up in bed’, written by my friends Matt & Juls Hollidge at Kore.  After 2000 years of packaging and controlling the gospel I wonder how we as leaders can keep the focus on the Wild Thing!  JK