A few years ago Bill Hybels introduced a simple but effective leadership tool he’d been using with leaders in a variety of contexts. Our boss used it with us yesterday, and I was reminded how helpful it is, so I thought I’d share it here.
In essence it’s just a simple diagram containing three arrows. One arrow goes up, one down, and one stays on the level. Hybels suggests that every organisation needs to define their current reality in terms of one of those arrows. Are things on the up, plateaued, or in a downturn.
In one sense the exercise is frighteningly simple. In another its incredibly difficult because it requires a significant degree of courage to be absolutely honest about how things are really going.
Hybels suggests that if you lead long enough you will find yourselves in all three situations. Failure isn’t being in a downturn; the real failure is the refusal to call it.
Once you’ve identified current reality you can do something about it. The hard part is identifying. Interestingly Hybels also suggests that while the leader might be reluctant to do the exercise, those around the leader know exactly what the current reality is – they’re just waiting for the leader to own it and do something about it.
Now, far be it from me to offer anything in addition, but it seems to me that often a single organisation may be experiencing all three realities simultaneously, albeit in different areas. So some things may be going well, while others have plateaued or are struggling. Working out which is which, and then putting in place the appropriate plan for each area is where the challenge and skill of leadership lies. So why not give it a go. Sit down with your fellow leaders, draw the three arrows, and see where your conversation ends up. I think you’ll find it a surprisingly fruitful exercise.
Here’s a very quick plug for a book I really enjoyed reading recently by Michael Sandel, entitled Justice. The book is all about ethics and morality. It’s super-engaging and he really makes you wrestle through your own thinking. Sandel is a Harvard prof and isn’t coming at his topic from a Christian point of view. Nevertheless his engaging style, and the questions/scenarios he presents will definitely help a critical thinker sharpen up. If you prefer watching or listening to reading you can see him deliver most of the books contents in a brilliant series of lectures available here:
At our monthly reading group last night we were thinking together about means of grace – in particular the sacraments and what reformed theology has often termed ‘the ordinary means of grace.’ In using the term ordinary they mean ‘as opposed to extraordinary,’ rather than ‘dull.’ Bavinck (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4) discusses the possibility of extraordinary works of grace in, for example, those who die in infancy. However, he argues that God has given us ‘ordinary’ means whereby God converts and grows. For Bavinck these ‘ordinary means’ are the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments (Matt 28:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Bavinck is clear that Christ is the mediator of Grace, but that he has chosen to gift us with regular means through which he is pleased to work. In Grudem’s Systematic Theology he broadens out the ‘means’ to include things like prayer, fellowship, and personal ministry among other things. What was encouraging for us, as we talked it through, was some of the applications of this idea. Here’s a few the group came up with:
- If God chooses to give grace through his ‘ordinary means’ it means they are, in another sense, quite extraordinary. The gathering of the church to worship, pray, hear from God’s word and partake of the sacraments is always a special thing.
- If God uses ‘ordinary means’ it means we should make the most of them personally. We should make regular Sunday attendance a priority.
- If God uses ‘ordinary means’ it means we should have more confidence in inviting our friends to church. Courses are great too, but let’s not under-value the potential power of simply taking a friend to church.
- If God works through the ‘ordinary means’ then it puts into perspective the latest programme, tool, course, or slick approach. All of these things may be helpful, but the ‘ordinary means’ encourages us to trust in those things God has already gifted to his church.
- It’s humbling for those of us who are church leaders to recognise that God works through his means, not through our methods.
- It’s reassuring for those of us who are church leaders to recognise that God works through his means, not through our methods.
- And just to throw a grenade into the mix, I suggested that if God uses his ‘ordinary means’ we perhaps then ought to think quite carefully before taking children out and away from them (that generated some good discussion!)
What else might you add to this list of applications of ‘the ordinary means of grace’?
I recently read this little essay by Francis Schaeffer and found it very challenging. Here are a few quotes:
‘Tragically, all too many of us live out this antithesis [practical materialism] of true spirituality. We all tend to live ‘ash heap lives’; we spend most of our time and money for things that will end up in the city dump.’
‘Death is a thief. Five minutes after we die, our most treasured possessions which are invested in this life are absolutely robbed from us.’
‘There is a peculiar kind of right of private property in the Bible – a private property, an acquired property, an accumulated property that cares for people. And this we have forgotten. Our choice is not between an accumulated property, which is hard, cold and unloving, and a socialism in which the state owns everything. The Christian has a third option – property acquired and used with compassion.’
‘To the extent that wealth (or power) is our reference point, we are spiritually poor.’
‘What is involved is not just the amount of money we give to ‘the church.’ What is involved is the way we spend it all. We have a right to spend money – do not misunderstand me and start feeling guilty for the wrong reasons. . . There is a time to buy flowers and take a vacation. What is important is not despising acquired wealth; it is using all our money wisely before the face of God.’
Small groups are great! They’re a place where we can connect with others, share, pray, grow, talk, study, explore, and go deeper in our faith. Except sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes, for various reasons, they can be places where people aren’t great at sharing, talking, praying, and encouraging one another. So I want to offer three simple ways you can get the most out of your small group, and you can be a great encourager to others.
- Be there! I know its tempting sometimes to skip small group. We may be tired and busy with a million other things to do. We may just want to crash out on the sofa in front of Netflix. But one of the best ways we can encourage others is simply with our presence. I’ve been the leader in groups where two people have turned out – it doesn’t feel great. And I’ve also been at those meetings where everyone has turned out, and we’ve had an amazing time. So if you want to get the most out of your small group, and you want to encourage others, commit to being there whenever you’re able. You may not realise it, but you will be a huge encouragement to others, especially the leader.
- Talk! There’s nothing more awkward than prolonged silence in response to a question. As a leader or group member its painful to be in that moment where a question has been asked and everyone simply looks at the floor, or their Bibles. I know some of us are more reserved than others, but turn up to small group planning to speak and contribute. Perhaps you could think ahead, maybe as you walk or drive to your group, what will you be talking about, and what might you have to share. Try being the first person to answer, at least once each week. It doesn’t matter if you don’t say the most profound thing, or it doesn’t come out quite right. Nobody minds. As with your presence, your participation will encourage everyone in the room, and the leader will love you for it.
- Pray! As with #2, how often has the leader initiated a time of prayer only to be met with a deafening silence. Again, I know for some of us praying in public is scary. We’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, or not getting the words out. But, as with #2, nobody minds. Even more importantly God doesn’t mind. He delights to hear us talk to him as children to a father, and in fact Jesus commands us not to babble on like pagans (Matt 6:7). So when you come to your group plan and be prepared to share and pray. Don’t worry about how long or fancy your prayers are – just pray, something short, something simple, maybe just a sentence. You wouldn’t believe how much that would encourage others in your small group. It’s also a good way of helping others begin to learn to pray in a small group setting.
So there it is. It’s not rocket science. If you want to get the most out of your small group, and if you want to encourage others in your group, and if you want to support the leader then work at these three simple things: Be there, talk, pray.
Yesterday two street preachers were convicted of public order offences. They were preaching in Bristol’s Broadmead Shopping Centre last summer. They appeared to get into some heated debate, the police intervened, and they were charged under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act – “threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, thereby, and the offence was religiously aggravated.” Now, I wasn’t in Bristol that day, and I haven’t closely followed their trial, but here are just three very simple observations/reflections:
- Let’s neither divinize nor demonize street preaching. Some may wish to uphold these street preachers as persecuted heroes. From the little bits of evidence I’ve seen and heard (see here) they did appear to be conducting themselves in a way that may have been unnecessarily provocative (whether it was threatening or abusive is unclear). The content of our speech is one thing, the tone another. Their conviction seems to be more about how they said, than what they said (but more on that below). But neither let us demonize street preachers. I have a friend who works for the Open Air Mission and having seen him speak in public, he is one of the most gentle and winsome people I know. Most of his work is done in one-to-one conversation. He’s always respectful and polite, and never rude, pushy, or dismissive. And, as far as I know, he’s never had a problem with public or police. There surely needs to remain a place for civil dialogue in the public square, whatever our beliefs.
- Let’s highlight inconsistencies. If appropriate freedoms are to be enjoyed we should try and help the authorities spot the places where they are being inconsistent or contradictory. An interesting example occurred in this case where the prosecutor, Ian Jackson, stated, “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.” Take note of the inconsistency. The prosecutor makes a claim about truth – that claiming Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth, or that Jesus is the only way to God cannot be truth. He uses an absolute truth claim to shut down absolute truth claims. Now, I uphold his right to make a claim for truth, but only on the basis that other truth claims are also permitted. To pick and choose which truth claims are permitted is arbitrary and possibly tyrannical. In public dialogue people should be able to make competing claims for truth, and should be free to respectfully discuss and disagree.
- Let’s not be afraid to speak up, but do so with gentleness and respect. The Evangelical Alliance and Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship recently put together a little booklet entitled Speak Up: A Brief Guide to the Law and Your Gospel Freedoms. In the booklet they highlight Articles 9 & 10 of the Human Rights Convention – articles which protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and expression. And they also give suggestions on how we may appropriately share our beliefs with others. Advice includes: listen well; be gentle; be respectful; be non-judgmental, be sensitive; treat others as you would have them treat you.
Yesterday’s judgement should not make people fearful of sharing their beliefs and values with others (in public or private), but it should encourage us to think carefully about how we do that. We might not always agree with one another in these things, but we should keep fighting for one another’s freedom to talk about them.