With a General Election just weeks away, it’s that time again when all sorts of inflammatory political posts fill up TwitFace, and I’d like to take a minute (just sit right there) to urge us toward thoughtfulness, clarity, charity, and civility. So here’s a few thoughts:
- Consider your words (Prov 12:18) – words have power to build up and encourage, or tear down and destroy.
- Consider what you re-post – not every wit out there deserves more air time (Eph 5:4)
- Consider the best case of those with whom you disagree (Jam 1:19)
- Put yourself in their shoes – how difficult must it be to try and represent diverse groups and view-points?
- Consider their aims and motives – I suspect (maybe I’m naive) that most MPs and political parties want to see people flourish, but they will have different visions of how that may be achieved in the short, medium, and long-term
- Think the best, not the worst of others (1 Pet 3:8)
- Exercise caution. Get informed before you hit ‘share’ – it is possible that what you’re about to share is libellous – therefore illegal as well as immoral (Prov 18:7)
- Represent the best case of those with whom you disagree – don’t fall into the promotion of cheap-shot caricatures (Exod 23:1)
- Don’t believe everything that’s on Facebook! (Prov 14:15)
- Add value – contribute something positive – don’t just rant and rave (Eph 4:29)
- If you’re unsure, don’t post it – your moment of doubt probably exists for a reason (Prov 21:23)
- Think about arguments – which ones are good and bad – and why?
- Talk about these things more than you post – it’ll make you think more carefully about your arguments and how you express them
- Pray more than you post! (1 Tim 2:1-4) – nuff said!
- Trust that God is control (Rom 13:1)
- Go back and read the above Bible verses if you decided to skip them
What other principles would you include in thinking about our engagement with politics on social media?
This post is really a plug for a great little book I read last week by Dave Kraft called Mistakes Leaders Make. It was published in 2012 (I’m a little behind the times!) as a follow up to his equally brilliant Leaders Who Last. Here are his ten chapter titles to whet your appetite:
- Allowing Ministry to Replace Jesus
- Allowing Comparing to Replace Contentment
- Allowing Pride to Replace Humility
- Allowing Pleasing People to Replace Pleasing God
- Allowing Busyness to Replace Visioning
- Allowing Financial Frugality to Replace Fearless Faith
- Allowing Artificial Harmoney to Replace Difficult Conflict
- Allowing Perenially Hurting People to Replace Potential Hungry Leaders
- Allowing Information to Replace Transformation
- Allowing Control to Replace Trust
I’d recommend buying the book for your team and talking about a chapter every time you meet. It’s that rare combination of being super-readable, practical, and profound. Just buy it already!
I’ve been doing a little training with our small group leaders recently. We’ve been talking about how to train and develop new leaders, and I’ve been using a well-known little matrix which related consciousness and competence. The grid identifies four stages of development as follows:
- Unconscious incompetence – there’s stuff out there that you don’t know how to do, and you don’t know that you don’t know how to do it. For most people who are part of teams or small groups this is where they sit. They know stuff happens but they don’t really know (or necessarily care) how it happens.
- Conscious incompetence – at some point you may be asked to contribute something to your small group or team. At this point you suddenly become painfully aware that you don’t know how to do what you’re being asked to do. Just the request brings on the sweats. You didn’t used to care; now you’re terrified of something that you used to take for granted when someone else did it.
- Conscious competence – eventually given enough support, opportunity, encouragement and practise you’ll achieve a level of competence in a task. You’ve worked out how to do something and how to make it work reasonably well. You still get nervous, but your confidence is growing.
- Unconscious competence – further down the track still and you’ve reached the point where performing a particular task feels straightforward and relatively simple to you. You won’t worry about doing it, and you may not have to think too hard – it’ll come almost as second nature.
Within this cycle there are a couple of danger points. The first comes between stages 2 and 3. First efforts at something are often not our best and the ‘pit of despair’ can swallow us up, never to emerge again. But there’s another danger point at stage 4. It seems to me that this shouldn’t really be the point we finish the process. If we get to the point where we are unconsciously competent, how do we train and develop others? How do we grow ourselves? If we stop at stage 4 we’ll think we’ve arrived and will stop growing. Worse, when others ask us for our help we won’t know what to say. Somebody will say to us, ‘how do you do that?’ Our answer will be, ‘mmm . . . not sure really – just sort of do.’
So I think we need a 5th stage which we might call ‘reflective competence.’ We need to be able to define why something works and where it can be improved so that we can keep developing and growing, and so that we’re able to train others. And it’s often only as we’re called to train and develop others that we really begin to learn ourselves.
A few years ago I put together some ideas on how churches can make the most of Easter. In essence my thinking hasn’t changed all that much, so here’s a slight re-working of that previous post – here’s 9 ways to make the most of Easter.
- Make a week of it. We have a women’s prayer meeting on the Wednesday evening (followed by a curry), and a men’s prayer evening on Maundy Thursday (followed by a curry). On Friday we join the town centre service with other Bedford churches. And on Sunday we have our own Easter services (morning and evening). Think in terms of Easter week, not just Easter day.
- Publicise well. Get some proper design and publicity done and spread it through local papers, word of mouth, flyers, posters, social media etc. Many people still want to go to a good Easter service (as they do Christmas), they’re just not sure where to go. Make yours stand out.
- Look out, not just in. Many Christians use Easter as a time of personal meditation and reflection, which is good. But in so doing we forget that there is a good opportunity to involve and invite friends, family, neighbours, colleagues etc. The news of the risen Christ is to be shared – think about how you can use Easter evangelistically as well as personally.
- Put time and effort into your Easter services. Most do this well but I think we’ve all been to some where the pastor has been having the week off (because his kids are off), and he figures its only really for his own folk (many of whom will go and see family), so the whole thing is shabby and badly done. Spend some time thinking about how you welcome people, how you start and close the service, how to make the most of media and music, who else to involve, and how you can prepare a stonking message.
- Exercise good hospitality. Put people in your car park (if necessary), have good welcomers, go out of your way to welcome visitors from the front, get some doughnuts in for after the service, and give people real coffee (for the love of humanity!). Hospitality matters. Don’t scrimp on it.
- Diarize well. As a church try to have events and courses that lead into and out of your major seasons and services. It’s no good having an Explore course two months after your Easter service. Think about it. Make sure the Explore course starts a couple of weeks after your Easter service so that people can sign up there and then.
- Invite some people for lunch. On a more personal level why don’t you invite people to come to church on Easter Sunday with you and then to come back for lunch. Makes a bit more a day of it and helps to prevent your friends feeling like you’re only interested in press ganging them into church.
- Give a gift to visitors. Doesn’t have to be anything flash. We used a £1 book we got from 10ofthose. For each and every visitor we gave a gift to thank them for coming. All of our gifts were taken and hopefully people may read and return.
- Be there! Save the most controversial for last, but plan to be there. Bizarrely, as many people want to come to church on Easter, many Christians want to go away. They see family, take a long weekend away, or go (maybe worst of all!) to a Christian conference! You can do those things at other times of the year. Get into the field at harvest time. Now of course we’re under grace and people are at liberty to go away whenever they like but it seems to me Christians miss a trick by being away from the local church (and their local friends) at such an evangelistically strategic time of the year.
‘Sin’ is one of those Bible words that doesn’t carry a lot of freight in our culture. It’s normally thought of as little ‘naughties’, misdemeanours, humorous mischief, or even related to certain diet plans. For Christians we can easily reduce ‘sin’ to two or three particular images which resonate with us. The truth is the Bible contains lots of different ways of describing sin, some of which I’ve listed below. The challenge for pastors and preachers is communicating the full range of the Bible’s own imagery, and skillfully applying it to particular individuals or contexts. So here’s a list (clearly not exhaustive), in the hope that it may be useful:
- Transgression/law-breaking (1 John 3:4)
- Falling short (Rom 3:23)
- A Coup d’etat (Psa 2:1-3)
- A dirtiness (Isa 64:6)
- Vanity (Phil 2:3)
- Imitating God (in a bad way!! – Gen 3:5)
- De-humanising (Psalm 115:8)
- De-creation (Gen 3)
- False faith (Rom 1:25)
- Unbelief (Heb 3:19)
- Arrogance (Rom 11:20)
- Lostness/Going Astray (Isa 53:6; Luke 15)
- Folly (Psalm 14:1)
- Corruption (Psalm 14:3)
- Covering/Hiding (Gen 3:8)
- Turning away/running away (Jer 2:27; Luke 15)
- Perversion (Luke 9:41)
- ‘fight or flight’ (Lev 26:27)
- Mistrust (Num 20:12)
- Defiance (Exod 5:2)
- Disobedience (Eph 2:3)
- Disordered love (2 Chron 19:2)
- Greed/Ingratitude (Eph 5:4)
- Misplaced desire (Jam 1:15)
- Sickness (Isa 1:5)
- Idolatry (1 Sam 15:23)
- Rejection (1 Sam 15:23)
- Slavery (John 8:34)
- Blindness (Deut 28:29)
- Rebellion/enmity (Rom 5:10)
- Ignorance (Eph 4:18)
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.’