The Journey Blog

Reflections on the art of leading

Monk’s Beard in God’s Classroom

This is an adapted version of a meditation I gave onboard a riverboat that travelled the Rhine last April. We were visiting the area where much of the history of the Reformation occurred and this little vingette perfectly captures the stance with which we entered that time. It is an example of our view of learning and of the joy of giving our hearts to others through our work as redeemed men and women. 

Psa 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein...”

This morning I want to frame our time time together in a particular mindset—that the entire world is God’s classroom. This is clearly seen in how Jesus taught the disciples as they walked, as they were in a boat, when he saw the widow in the Temple putting in her pennies.... I want to encourage you to open your eyes and ears and hearts, to see the myriad marks of the image of God on display in the works of his image bearers all around us. We will see it in culture, architecture, food, winemaking, brewing—everything we observe.

Walking through the streets in Zurich a few days ago, we passed a little shop with bundles of an edible succulent plant. It was labeled, Barba di Frate (which is Italian for monk’s beard). We were interested because it was obviously being sold as food, but we weren’t familiar with it. I learned that it is also known as saltwort, because it is of the family of plants that tolerate a salty habitat. What one might not know about this plant when thinking of it as food is that it has great historical significance: it is the plant from which soda ash was made out of the ashes of the burned plant. It was the reason the world famous Venetian Glass had such amazing crystalline clarity. The artisans on the island of Murano off the coast of Venice still make their prized glass today. Murano glass is one of the 100 oldest continuing operations Companies in the World, and would have been in operation, and in wealthy homes, during the 16th Century.

Consider the wonder of the outpoured creativity and artistry of God’s image bearers all around us. Wherever we see it, it should always point us to the Creator, and move our hearts to wonder, and worship, and thanksgiving that he not only created the world but he came into it to rescue it, and that his rescue included you and me.

Note the words of the poet William Cowper describing God’s great and wonderful wisdom, and his creative power:

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs,

And works His sovereign will.

How a season inside a church is growing me as a coach

It's not that I was never inside a church before, of course, but I have not had coaching as a major part of my work in a church to the degree that I do in this season. It is a living laboratory for the leaders and for me. It's growing them as a team, and me as a coach.

What was your best experience of teamwork? What was happening? What were people contributing, what gifts were being used? What difference did it make? What was so meaningful about it?

These are some of the questions we asked over a span of weeks: interviewing and weighing the results in a process called Appreciative Inquiry. Ai is a process that focuses on discovering what an organization does best, its heart and its core, telling the stories, finding themes, and creating statements describing a hopeful vision for the future. It is exciting to watch this process unfold—where a group engages with the things that have been most meaningful and true about them. In fact the process is very similar to the research method we used on our dissertations in the Doctor of Ministry program.

My coaching and mentoring practice centers this process in the gospel, squarely in "God's world." We focus upon discovering where God was clearly at work, and to prayerfully and intentionally work together to create an environment where those things flourish. 

My training with the College of Executive Coaching introduced Ai and I was struck by the way it fosters creativity, hope, and vision and much more so when we ground it in the gospel. I've been using it in my coaching ever since. This Spring I started the process of becoming a certified Ai facilitator and my practicum will be on the process I've facilitated here at Valley Springs. 

Seeing the world as it is, but also as it will be

The following reflections were shared with a Learning Team at Valley Springs Presbyterian in Roseville, CA where I'm serving in an extended role of coaching, preaching, and teaching. The team is in the process of discovering and appreciating the story and strengths of the church and prayerfully considering the kinds of servant leaders that are needed to fulfill its calling in the coming seasons of its life. 

We see the world as it is, but also as it will be. Because we believe in the God “who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not as though they were” we have a true hope, are called to bold faith, and to selfless love by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In contrast to the strictly "positive" approach to organizational and individual development or the "deficit" model that concentrates on what is broken and assembles resources to fix it, we have both a realistic view of the world, and a true hope. It is realistic, therefore we are never surprised that brokenness is present and at work in the world and will continue to be until the Restoration. It is realistic because we know that there is a true, healing remedy for sin and its consequences in the gospel, and that things would be much worse than they are were it not for the fact that God actively restrains evil. 

The gospel also gives us a wonderfully hopeful, and unparalleled view, because in Christ we have the living hope of the resurrection and the restoration of the whole Creation. Unlike groundless optimism, our hope has been promised and secured by Christ’s sacrifice of himself, and he personally assures us that he has gone before us to prepare a place that will be beyond our wildest dreams…when he makes all things new!

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What might God be pleased to help us to imagine, discover, plan, and pray toward, and delight in as he unfolds the works that he has prepared for us to walk in together?  

…Since Christ is the center, it is him we want to walk among us this weekend, even as he walks among the lamp stands in Revelation. The more he becomes the center that he truly is, the more we will come into our full humanity. Be not afraid; the Christ will not extinguish you—as Irenaeus noted, ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive.’ The great delight of the Spirit is to open up the depths of our being to Jesus…
— Craig Bartholomew

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” … “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12; 2:16–17

A Post Father's Day Post

In this post I honor my Dad, and dedicate a video to his memory as the man who shaped me in deep ways and is present still in my heart and thoughts as I pursue my life's work in ministry. Pastors are like spiritual fathers and my aim is to help to make them strong and to endure and have the kind of influence my dad had among his men. I hope you'll watch and if this stirs you up—I'd love to hear about it. I'd love to be your pastor's pastor.

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A Web of Relationships

I saw two vintage photographs of couples we know, taken when they were in their prime in the 70s. There were beards, long hair, long flowered dresses, and smiles that were as recognizable today as they were then.

And as I looked I realized that just those two couples had webs of relationships that numbered in the thousands.

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Room to Breathe

A man I'll call Rick was describing the safe, honest, affirmation of a circle of men who have decided to risk being real with each other...The schedule was slow. We lingered over conversation and gave room to breathe and delight in God's good provision of table fellowship and the beauty of his creation. The content was the hearts of the men in the room. We were there to be attentive to the work of God's Spirit in one another's lives

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Recovery and Restoration for Pastors

A friend once shared a concept with me about missionary service being like convalescence prescribed by the Great Physician. We typically think of ministry and mission as a heroic thing we do for Jesus. It is good to think instead that our service to Jesus is convalescence. It's like rehab: a time of returning to health. It is something he designs and orchestrates over and above every organized thing we do to advance our spiritual recovery. If the service he calls us to is for our health then it's also authentic: having the marks of the Spirit in us. So it is also winsome, and it brings him glory.

Here is a story in which I had the sense of being the Physician's assistant.

During his kick-off retreat a church planter I'm coaching gained a much clearer awareness of his particular struggles—things that have been holding him back. Through the coaching process we went well beyond the data he'd received from his church planting assessment and began exploring his unique way of leading and how it can be used in the embryonic church he is developing. It was powerful to see him thinking of leadership less as the narrow paradigm in his head—and trying to conform to that—and more as the way he most naturally and freely offers his heart. The hope and excitement in his voice and heart were evident as he began to envision a way to lead that fits him well and helps him to form and implement good plans.

This is what I mean by "connecting your heart with your work".

Mentors and Peer Learning: Culture-shaping Practice #4

"Entrepreneurs and engineers, were viewed as gods in our culture, and technology was the answer to all the world's problems." 

This was Katherine Alsdorf's assessment of the early days of the start-up tech world in Every Good Endeavor, (Keller and Aldsorf, 2012).

What we think of as "American" ingenuity and technology are defining, monolithic aspects of our culture that touch virtually every area of human activity, including the church. How do we recover from our “cultural addictions” and move toward healthy paradigms and expectations of work, leadership, and the cultures we create at work, whether in the social sectors, government, or in enterprise?

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