Leader, You Need Boundaries

boundariesHere’s an excellent book from Henry Cloud entitled Boundaries For LeadersThe main idea of the book is that boundaries are necessary for great performance, and it is the leaders job to put these in place. Leaders need to establish values, norms, practices, culture, disciplines, and structures to get the best out of others and themselves. Cloud argues that these things don’t just happen – it takes intentional leadership to put these things in place. Failure to do so results in unhappy and unproductive teams. He works through each of the areas listed above and gives some great practical ideas to help turn some of the thinking into reality. If you run a staff team, department, or a group of volunteers there’s plenty of helpful stuff to learn here.

Myths Surrounding Evangelism

mythI mentioned in my last post that Andrew Heard had some interesting/stimulating/provocative things to say regarding myths that surround evangelism. I’m not saying I agree necessarily with all of these but I thought they were thought provoking and raise some good questions. So here are Andrew Heard’s 8 myths about evangelism:

  1. Every Christian will evangelise – They won’t. Some won’t ever. They’re immature, and some are long-term hard-core rebels in this sphere.
  2. Training is the answer – Truth is it doesn’t last, and the hard-hearted still won’t do it. Only the keenies (who don’t really need it) embrace it.
  3. Follow-up is key – a 7 week course simply won’t cut it. It is simply insufficient. People start so far back that one course, for many, won’t do the job.
  4. Big events are key – in reality they see very little fruit. They’re valuable in creating ‘noise’ and momentum, but don’t put all your eggs in this basket.
  5. The right course or resource will do it – A good course will help, but there’s a whole load of other factors in the background that lead in to it. Not as simple as having the ‘right’ course.
  6. Ministers can run evangelism – There’s too many other things on the minister’s plate – a structure is required rather than one man running round like a headless chicken.
  7. A new post-modern theology is required – Nope. It’s the Emperor’s new clothes.
  8. Personal is better than the event. Not necessarily – too simplistic. Need both-and, not either-or.

Andrew’s big point is that structures are necessary to facilitate a body of people achieving something. He describes the attitude that just seeks to change the heart as ‘beads and sandals’ Christianity. It’s an ideal, but it’s the real world, and real fallen sinful people we’re working with. What’s needed is not the next big thing, or the magic bullet, but a thought-through structure that incorporates the personal, social, and structural factors to mobilise the body. What do you think – is he right, or wrong?

Andrew Heard’s Leadership Gold

ahI finally got round to writing up all my notes from Andrew Heard’s excellent seminars on leadership at the FIEC leader’s conference last November. His talks are over on the FIEC website and I’d highly recommend them. Here’s a snapshot of some of the things he said:

  • The passion to grow churches is both dangerous and necessary – dangerous because you can get a fat head and/or compromise the gospel; necessary because the church is a life boat and people are drowning. BEWARE of the twin dangers of heroic pessimism or satisfactory under-performance.
  • Growth is influenced by us – we are part of the means used by a sovereign God. So we need to consider inputs and outputs – inputs determine outputs – if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get the same results.
  • Focus on core inputs – word, prayer, godliness, outward focus
  • Some skill areas to consider – learning to lead yourself (be proactive, control your diary); lead others (intentional investment); learn to build an organisation (structures, systems, strategy etc).
  • Embrace a slow burn perspective – build long term strategies – focus on 4-5 key initiatives a year (not 30!).
  • Have a 5 year vision – the reverse engineer it
  • Look at the fields, not at the barns – if you look at the barns you will think, dream, and structure too small!
  • Everything you add in to the church life either adds heat or dampens it – consider what extra ‘noise’ does to your core values
  • Diarize your church calendar around the things which matter most – eg. get mission programs/events in first and structure around that.
  • Build pathways for people from contact, to follow-up, to courses, to discipleship etc.
  • Build a team around things which matter to your church – what you resource demonstrates what you care most about

Andrew also had some striking things to say regarding myths that surround evangelism – I’ll save those for another post 🙂

A Book Every Pastor Should Read

griefI picked up a copy of C.S.Lewis’ A Grief Observed for a quid in a bookshop the other week. It was small (60 pages), cheap, and by C.S.Lewis so worth a look I thought. Turns out to be one of the most useful practical and pastoral resources I’ve read. It is essentially his reflections, written down in his journal, after his wife died of cancer. It’s one of the most real and powerful expressions of grief I’ve come across. He manages to express in words what many people feel – and the effect is sobering. Now, be warned, there’s some heterodox stuff that comes out, but here’s the thing – many of our folk will say heterodox stuff in grief. The question is how are you going to respond when they do – giving them a copy of Grudem might not work! Having done a quick Amazon check you can get this book for as little as a few quid – it’ll certainly repay the investment next time you come alongside a friend struggling with loss. Here’s a couple of lines from the opening page to whet your appetite:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. . . At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”

A New Evangelistic Resource to Consider?

what's it all aboutExciting news! Yesterday 10ofthose released a new little book (yes, written by moi) designed to be used as an evangelistic resource. So I thought I’d take the liberty of explaining a little more about it. It’s only a short book (45 pages) and asks (without necessarily answering) six big questions. They are:

  1. Where do we come from?
  2. What are we here for?
  3. Where are we going?
  4. What’s wrong?
  5. What’s the solution?
  6. How do we know?

The point is to suggest that everyone has some kind of answer to these questions, and the way in which you answer shows you something of your own way of viewing life, the universe, and everything else – we might dare to call it your ‘faith.’ Everyone has one – it’s just a case of whether its been thought through. The questions form a little ‘worldview’ diagram which hopefully makes it easy to remember. I give my two-penneth briefly at the end but I’m really trying to provoke some thought and conversation so the book is not a full-on gospel presentation – more a suggestion to ponder. It’s dead cheap (cheaper if you buy in bulk) and I’d hope it’s the kind of book people buy, read, and give away. It might be a good tool in the run up to a passion for life. Just to be clear, I don’t make any money out of it – that’s not why I’m plugging it – I’m plugging it because I hope it might be a genuinely useful evangelistic tool. If you can, have a look, and let me know what you think – better still leave a review at 10ofthose.com.

Manner Trumps Content Like it or Not

rope bridgeI promised last week I’d do a follow up to to my previous post, Two Things Preachers Need to Know. Toward the end of that post I threw out the idea that manner trumps content like it or not. I’m increasingly convinced this is the case. Numerous studies have shown that what people hear and what we say aren’t the same thing. People relate far more to tone, appearance, manner etc. That is all ‘noise’ which often serves to interfere with the content of the message. But I’d like to take us back a couple of millenia to learn from Aristotle on this one.

Aristotle observed that there are three aspects involved in successful communication – logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is the content of what we say; ethos is the integrity, character, and trustworthiness of the speaker; pathos refers to whether or not the speaker can make us ‘feel’ the reality, urgency, and importance of the message. And here’s the bit preachers need to understand. Logos fails to reach destination without ethos and pathos. You can like a speaker and not buy his message. You can be made to feel the truth of an unsound argument. But you won’t by the argument you perceive to be uninteresting, irrelevant, or untrustworthy. Ethos and pathos are like the bridge across which you freight your argument. And here’s where we return to last weeks thoughts on the view which says ‘give it to ’em straight.’ Remember most unconvinced folk don’t understand much of the gospel, they think they actually do understand it, and are suspicious and skeptical about ‘church’ and ‘religion.’ The ‘give it to ’em straight’ crew reinforce all their preconceptions – people feel like they’re being ticked off and they tune out. Failure of ethos and pathos inevitably means failure of logos.

Now I know the objections run as follows:

1. Paul deliberately rejected rhetorical approaches in Corinth. Yes, he did in Corinth – he didn’t in Athens. Beware making a universal application from a particular situation.

2. Surely God opens blind eyes – this all sounds a bit Arminian. Yes, God is sovereign, and we’re also called to make the most of every opportunity (Col 4) and speak ‘persuasively’ (Acts 14:1).

3. Spiritually dead people don’t connect  with ethos and pathos – they’re spiritually dead and we’re the aroma of death. And yet, paradoxically we’re still called to be salt and light (Matt 5), and to live such good lives that our deeds may be seen (1 Pet 2). So there’s a way in which both can be true at the same time. The unregenerate can say ‘we’ll hear you again on this’ (Acts 17).

4. Aristotle is worldly wisdom, not biblical truth. As Calvin said, all truth is God’s. Common grace is everywhere, and Aristotle, where true, is borrowing God’s capital and using it. Rhetorical forms (like those spoken of by Aristotle and Quintilian) are clearly in use in the NT in sermons and letters.

So, given where people are coming from don’t be afraid to invest in ethos and pathos as the bridge across which you move your argument. That bridge is fragile and require investment. While you might think the guy who dresses up in a giant inflatable chef suit to do his kids carols talk is ‘fudging it’ consider whether there’s some relational capital being build – whether in fact a bridge is being erected connecting real people and their world to the message of the Bible. Once this fragile bridge is in place perhaps, just perhaps, people may give your message the time of day. Fact is manner trumps content, like it or not.

Two Things Preachers Need to Know

preacherI read with interest over the Christmas period a number of tweets and blogs urging preachers to be ‘faithful’ with their Christmas messages – not to soft-sell, or succumb to the temptation to be funny or frivolous or whatever else might begin with ‘f’. Basically the call was to ‘give it to em straight’ with both barrels and trust the sovereignty of God. We’re the aroma of death so don’t expect or want ‘them’ to like you.

Now here’s my problem with some less than nuanced versions of the above: First it plays down human responsibility. Second it reduces what it means to be ‘faithful’. Third, it misunderstands the audience. John Stott famously talked about ‘double-listening’ – listening to the word and listening to the world. So when it comes to listening to the ‘world’ here’s the two things you need to know:

1. They don’t know anything
2. They think they know something

Let’s take those in turn. First, many people today know next to nothing about the Bible and the Gospel. They come from so far back that shared understanding between the preacher and unbelieving listener is at a minimum. So we have to ‘accommodate’ to be understood. Calvin picked up the rhetorician’s idea of accommodation to describe how the infinite God makes himself understood to idiots like us. All successful communication requires accommodation, and we have an awful lot of work to do. ‘Giving it to them straight’ misunderstands how far back people are – they won’t understand you – you won’t communicate successfully, and therefore you have to ask if you’ve been ‘faithful’ in the broader sense.

Second, they think they know something. Here’s the real problem. People already think they know all about Christianity, religion, the Bible, and the Gospel. They know what it’s all about – it’s about goody two shoes religious people who hate gays, bash bibles, and try hard to be goody-goodies so they can get to heaven. They know this, they are suspicious of it, and they don’t like it. It’s worse than Athens (Acts 17) – not only do they not know very much, they think they understand it perfectly. So Christians have got a lot of bad theology to unpick, and a lot of that happens in terms of manner and approach. If you’give it to ’em straight’ you’ll reinforce all the things they think they know. So not only did you fail to communicate the positive, you actually reinforced the negative – their false gospel – way to go. Is that really what it means to be ‘faithful’ in making the most of every opportunity?

In the next post I’ll expand on the idea that in communication manner trumps content, like it or not.

Puzzles, Maps, and the Meaning of Life

puzzleI’m currently working my way slowly through N.T.Wright’s latest (and massive) offering – Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Early on he uses a couple of lovely illustrations related to worldview. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them before in his work but I was struck again at how useful these two metaphors are for preaching that seeks to engage listeners with their view of life. So here they are – I hope they prove useful:

1. Puzzles. Life can be like a puzzle. For many people though they are trying to do the puzzle with only half the pieces. They’ve already decided that some of the pieces don’t belong and so have swept them off the table and onto the floor. As a consequence they are left struggling to but the bits together and make sense of the overall picture. If you sweep God off the table you’ll struggle to make sense of the puzzle that is life.

2. Maps. Maps are great. They enable you to place yourself in a wider terrain. Often we humans get lost and have a poor sense of direction and surroundings. A map enables you to get your bearings, to make sense of the landmarks around you, to understand where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you want to go. As a result you can set your direction accordingly. The map isn’t the terrain – you still have to navigate that, but a map helps you make sense of the terrain. Life without God is like a hike without a map.

Any other good metaphors you’d like to let me steal?

An Old Suggestion For A New Year Of Reading

booksC.S.Lewis said, in his preface to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

So how about it? This year before you read the latest thing from the young restless reformed gang, you revisit (or visit!) some of the classics. Here’s a few good ‘uns to get you going (most of which are free on kindle btw!).

  • Athanasius, On the Incarnation
  • Augustine, Confessions
  • Kempis, Imitation of Christ
  • Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty
  • Calvin, Institutes (if you’re feeling brave there are various schemes to do it in the year)
  • Brooks, Precious Remedies
  • Edwards, Religious Affections
  • Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress
  • Chesterton, Orthodoxy
  • Lewis, Mere Christianity

Throw the dear readers a bone – what would you add to the list?