How to train key leaders as disciples and leaders

Last week I joined staff and area directors from sixteen campuses, along with our executive coaches, for training in ministry building. It was the best training of my ministry career. One of the things that made it powerful was the synergy that emerged from sharing the experience with one of my direct reports and our coach. All told, we spent more than 40 hours together face to face, which is more than we’d normally get in an academic year.

Key to the training is a tool—we received more than thirty tools over the week—called the “discipleship cycle.” It’s illustrated below. The discipleship cycle is the most effective way to both guide Christians in maturing as followers of Christ, but at the same to move them along a continuum of leadership development as well.

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“Hear the Word” – Through prayer, scripture, and in shared discernment, we come to agreement on what God is asking us to do. It may be agreeing to reach out to three people whom God has brought to mind. It may be taking the risk to approach another graduate student and encourage him in his faith. It could be any number of things.

“Respond actively” – When God leads us to do something—regardless of what it is—we respond actively. Hopefully out active response is also a full response rather than a marginal effort.

“Debrief and interpret” – This is critical to growth both as a leader and as a disciple. In community with another, we consider what God asked us to do and how we responded to his invitation. How did we feel? What was the outcome? What did we like about the experience? What was uncomfortable? What held us back from full obedience? You get the idea.

 

Asking questions is an incredibly fruitful way of coming to understand another. Answering questions is also an incredibly rich way to come to understand ourselves. Put these together with a trusted guide or coach who can, in reliance on God, attempt to bring some degree of interpretation to the experience and the combination is dynamite.

What’s so beautiful about this approach is that it can be deployed quite easily and naturally throughout the day and even a brief five minute encounter can become a micro-seminar with a very concrete, very particular lesson.

During the week, we used this tool and I found that it forced me to stop, consider the action or goal I had undertaken, evaluate my response to it, and then connect the two in the company of a coach who could help by clarifying, observing, and interpreting.

What tools do you use to help train followers of Christ as leaders?

 

 

 

Why the “wall of separation” must be porous

Ruling on appeal of a preliminary injunction, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has–in a divided decision–ruled that a for-profit business may absorb the religious beliefs of its owner. This carves out space for Hobby Lobby, Inc. to continue its non-compliance with provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) known as the contraception mandate without the threat of daily fines of $1 million. While it is a procedural ruling, the notion that a for-profit company can “absorb” the religious beliefs will require clarification from the court and will be significant for future decisions.

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Regardless of what you think about this decision, it does illustrate a deeper issue: religion and society cannot be separated by a wall that is not somehow porous. We can disagree with how porous the wall ought to be, but a complete separation of the two tends to favor tyranny rather than freedom.

Why? It’s imperative to acknowledge that there are things that matter more deeply than the way we order and govern our life together as a nation. In a highly pluralistic society, its imperative to recognize that “secular reason” cannot be the sole arbiter of our decisions without doing violence to the large number of people who acknowledge an authority deeper than that of the state. As a result, it is important to carve out exceptions for religious people and religious organizations and corporations as the court has intimated it may do in the case of Hobby Lobby.

A letter to my American friends

Hi friends,

I’m writing from a bookshop in Oxford, UK. Looking out of my window I can see the Sheldonian Theatre and the Divinity School of the University of Oxford (inspiration for the infirmary in The Harry Potter movies).

News from the US has been (thankfully) slow in getting to me and initially has (alas) come through Facebook. It’s often a wonderful thing to be somewhat removed from the news so that what is received by others as jarring and urgent is somehow blunted by the passage of time. In today’s world, a day or two seems as significant as a month or two years ago.

Would you allow me to make some observations about our collective discourse around issues such as race and sexuality?

A word of caveat, some will note that my observations come on the basis of Facebook exchanges and media coverage. While this may be seen as a weakness or limitation of this post, I think it’s true to say that our first person interactions rarely go much deeper than our social media interactions.

All sides to the common conversation around these topics (largely) have these things in common:

  • We’re fragmented.
  • Society is diverse in terms both of belief and of practice.

  • We hang out with people like us.
  • In this diversity, we choose others who are like us.

  • Our convictions are often unwarranted.
  • The appeal to “justice” is meaningless apart from some notion of what justice is and from where it is derived. Likewise, appeals to natural law or revelation or tradition are often insufficiently supported.

  • We demonize those who aren’t like us.
  • Both sides do this. Are those who disagree with gay marriage really homophobes? Are those who support it really sexual libertines? This is way too convenient.

  • We tend to find it difficult to love those who are different.
  • In the end, Jesus asks us to love those with whom we disagree quite fundamentally. Are we really willing to do this?

    This moment offers a unique opportunity for Christian people to lovingly, cogently, and consistently both argue and demonstrate the coherence of their views. At least for that reason, if none else, it is an exciting time.

    See many of you soon,

    Jeff

    Four things I love about international travel

    Tomorrow I’ll be traveling to join my wife who has spent the last week in Oxford, UK. She’s been participating in the Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford program at Wycliffe Hall. I’ll spend the last three days of her program exploring book shops, pubs, and the town. Then, we’ll spend three days together touring C S Lewis’s home, The Kilns, punting the Cherwell, taking high tea, and having as much fun as we can handle.

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    I love international travel. I was fortunate to have spent the most formative years of my life outside of the United States. I was born in Cyprus. Spent four years in Germany (Berlin) and then ten years in Great Britain. I’ve lived in the Western, Southern, and Northeastern United States. Additionally, I’ve visited several other countries like France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Greece, and Turkey. By globe-trotter standard, not particularly impressive. However, many people never have the chance to leave their state let alone their country. International travel is a privilege, something accompanies sufficient affluence to be able to afford it and sufficient education so as to value it.

    There are five things that I especially love about international travel:

  • 1. The chance to leave my “home” culture behind.
  • 2. The chance to absorb another culture.
  • 3. The chance to observe Christianity in that other culture.
  • 4. The chance to observe views about the USA in that other culture.
  • Don’t get me wrong, I love taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of other cultures. More than that, I always find myself observing, studying, probing the culture I’m in looking for connection between things that I’m familiar with and things that I am experiencing for the first time. That’s why I love international travel.

    You cannot have mission without discipleship

    Over the fifteen years since the publication of Darryl Guder’s landmark book The Missional Church, North American Christianity has become enamored of the word “missional.” This is no bad thing, but Mike Breen observes in this post that the future of missional may not be quite as bright as we hope. Could it be that in the next several years “missional” will sound in our ears much the same as “seeker sensitive” does today? Perhaps.

    That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

    Breen points out something that congregations often overlook: mission and discipleship are interdependent. Discipleship that fails to participate in the mission of God in some practical way isn’t really discipleship. Mission that isn’t rooted and sustained in Christ-centered community isn’t really mission at all.

     

     

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    The real problem in today’s church is that we’re not at all sure how to root our lives in the presence of God and in Christian community. Skye Jethani notes:

    Many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.

    As we engage in mission, it is critical that our minds and hearts be connected God through a life of vital piety. 

    It’s often assumed that evangelicals do not have the theological resources necessary to provide a foundation for missional discipleship. In the Reformed tradition, at least, nothing could be further from the truth. Calvin’s central critique of the monasticism of his time was not it’s practices, but that it was limited to a select few (see Boulton, Life with God 2011). Calvin saw the church as company of believers united around Word and sacrament and whose lives were marked by the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines used by monastic communities. The difference–Calvin’s Christians were “monks” in the world and it was not a peculiar calling, but one that is universal to all believers–the democratization of the monastic spiritual disciplines.

    In order to be missional in an authentic and sustainable way, we need to recapture Calvin’s sense of our being monastics in the world–people practicing the presence of God in the midst of our secular callings. Only then can we successfully integrate mission into life without simply burdening ourselves with another project for God.

    Are we a church separated by a common language?

    Disclaimer: This post is designed to be neither polemical nor apologetic. I’m attempting to describe what I am observing in the midst of the current unrest in the PC(USA). While it is a generalization, I think there a significant degree of accuracy in this observation. -JBG

    An American walked into an Oxford pub and addressed the bartender, “I’d like a beer and some chips.” The response puzzled him, “It’ll be five minutes on the chips, they’re in the fryer.” Looking behind the bar, the man noticed row after row of different types of chips–regular, salt and vinegar, barbecue–lined up ready to go. It’s been observed that the United States and Great Britain are two nations divided by a common language. In Britain, chips are crisps and the word chips refers what we might call fries.

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    The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a denomination separated by a common language. It’s not our only challenge, but certainly ranks among the top five.

    This reality often escapes the casual observer who reads our Book of Confessions and Book of Order. When any of us reads, we pour into the words before our eyes a meaning we associate with those words based on our education, experience, and convictions. In other words, we engage in interpreting those words–that is, we translate. This is why lawyers (and philosophers) are so precise with words. At least one job of a good lawyer is to ensure that her client clearly understands what, in reality, he is agreeing to. There is, of course, often a difference between what we think we’re agreeing to and what the other person thinks we are agreeing to. The difference often lies in the interpretive act.

    In the Presbyterian Church (USA), we share a common theological language. That language, however, is filled with varying and often competing interpretations. We all say “chips,” but some of us are thinking french fries and others Baked Lays. Same words. Different meanings.

    One example of this is the theological phrase, “the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Every part of the church, perhaps with the exception of those who object to the term “lord” in the first place, affirm that Jesus is Lord. Technically, it is inaccurate to say that the denomination rejects the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The reality is that there is a diversity of meaning in this phrase.

    What does this phrase mean? Are we talking chips or fries?

    When evangelicals (broadly) say the “Jesus is Lord,” they typically understand this phrase to refer to a constellation of affirmations.

    These include, but aren’t necessarily limited to,the following:

    • Jesus is the only way by which we may be reconciled to God;
    • this reconciliation is accompanied by a conscious recognition of it if not a conscious decision to repent of sin and believe the gospel;
    • as Lord, Jesus lays claim to every element of the believer’s life;
    • this claim requires the study of and submission to the teaching of Scripture;
    • the teaching of Scripture is best captured by referring to those interpretations whose currency comes in the form of longevity rather than novelty.

    Typically, evangelicals will focus more closely on personal piety or personal righteousness and less on what might be called social righteousness. This is the residue of revivalism in the creation of modern evangelicalism.

    Again, broadly, those who are not evangelical will mean something different with the phrase:

    • Jesus is the only (some would not agree to this) way to be reconciled to God;
    • this reconciliation may or may not be accompanied by an awareness of it;
    • as Lord, Jesus lays claim to every element of the believer’s life;
    • this claim requires the study of and submission to the teaching of Scripture;
    • the teaching of Scripture is best captured by referring to those interpretations that consider the insights of modern critical scholarship and recognize the significance of the interpreter in assessing the meaning of a text.
    • Older interpretations are more likely to be affected by social realities that no longer exist and which may (although not necessarily should) be rejected.

    Those outside of the evangelical camp will tend to emphasize the corporate or social nature of righteousness and see in Scripture that a key component of the nature of the church is it’s commission to stand for God’s justice in the world.

    See the tension?

    I’ve written elsewhere about how tensions have to be managed rather than resolved. This tension in the PC(USA) will not go away nor will it dissipate. In the end, every minister and church has to decide to what extent are they willing and able to manage the tension. Those who are both unable and unwilling ought to be free to appropriately depart. Those who believe they can remain should do so.

     

    The curious case of the praying valedictorian

    My Facebook feed has recently started to light up with editorial responses to the young man in South Carolina who, as valedictorian of his graduating class, set his prepared remarks aside and elected to recite the Lord’s Prayer in violation of the school district’s prohibition of religious observance.

    Here’s the video.

    Your response to this act of defiance will likely differ based on your religious convictions, your political persuasion, and where you live in the country. Clearly those in the audience at the commencement exercise appreciated the gesture. From the video, it’s hard to tell what the faculty are thinking. Plausibly, “oh crap” is one possibility.

    The decision to do this raises many questions…

    • About the student: is he brave or stupid? Heroic or reckless?
    • About the audience: how would they have responded to a muslim student doing something similar? Is applause a sign of belligerence rather than the appropriate reaction to the worship of God?
    • About us: how is our response conditioned by our prejudice? Against Southerners? Against Christians? Against fundamentalists?
    • About the act itself: is it really an exercise more of devotion to our Constitution and our conception of freedom in a liberal democracy than it is one of devotion to God? How does this relate to the biblical admonition to honor the civil magistrate?

    This young man, I’m sure, intended that his act be one of positive witness to our Lord. I hope that in the lives of many it will be received as just that and that perhaps some will incline themselves to God in a new way. However, many will see this as something akin to an act of defiance by a dwindling majority.

    It may be both.

    What do you think?

    Is God angry at sin?

    Protestant churches—especially evangelical ones—typically sing their theology. In the absence of a formal liturgy hymnody carries the weight of theological formation. Scripture shapes our beliefs about God more in the theory than in reality. The average Christian spends little time exploring how the confessions interpret Scripture. Instead, our sung worship songs shape our beliefs. Their influence comes by virtue of their memorable lyrical quality. It takes less effort to memorize a song (sung regularly) than a catechism that is ignored.

    That’s why I was so disturbed by the recent decision of the committee compiling the forthcoming Presbyterian hymnal Glory to God to omit the song, “In Christ Alone.” You can read the story here. If hymnody is sung theology then what does this decision say about the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

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    This decision is troublesome for several reasons. First, the committee weighed two ways of conceptualizing what a hymnal is. They asked the question: Is it a collection of diverse hymns reflecting a variety of theological views present in the church? As such, any commitment to a unified theological vision would be downplayed in favor of representation of various views or styles. Their should be no problem including this popular song.

    They also asked: is a hymnal a “deliberately selective book” that emphasizes some views and excludes others on the basis of its “educational mission” (I prefer “catechetical mission”) for the church? This requires some degree of theological unanimity.

    The prevailing view of the committee was that a hymnal has an educational message, which requires rejecting some theological viewpoints that no longer comport with the view of the church.

    This is an important consideration. I agree with the decision of the committee to envision the hymnal as something that is consonant with and advances the theological vision of the church. The problem is that in making this decision the committee has emphatically set aside a theological vision that comports with my own. In the rush to be inclusive the committee has, in actuality, excluded a theological vision that has inspired many Christians over the centuries, not the least of whom is John Calvin.

    Read the rest of the article here.

    Leather, whips, and self-restraint?

    As our culture continues to grapple with the meaning of marriage, the Washington Post reported that vocal advocates of polyamory in the Unitarian Universalist church are detrimental to legal recognition of same sex marriage. You can read the original Post article here and the IRD’s commentary here.

    Many traditionalists have asked the question: if same sex marriage is recognized, what next? This “domino effect” objection has been pooh-poohed by progressives as something of a straw man. Yet, as the Washington Post notes, the efforts of Unitarian “Universalists for Polyamory Awareness” (UUPA) threaten to demonstrate that perhaps this conservative objection is not as specious as it once appeared.

    The article cites sociologist Peter Berger as observing that once you recognize same sex marriage, “you open the door to any number of other alternatives to marriage as a union of one man and one woman: polygamous (an interesting question for Muslims in Germany and dissident Mormons in Arizona), polyandrous, polygenerational – perhaps polyspecies?” If Berger is correct surely it is only a matter of time before the poly community poses the questions: “Why is marriage limited to two people?” “Why is marriage privileged over other arrangements?” According to the article, poly activist Kenneth Haslam has argued: “Poly folks are strong believers that each of us should choose our own path in forming our families, forming relationships, and being authentic in our sexuality.” The key concepts here are: autonomy, choice, and authenticity.

    This stands in stark contrast with the Christian notion of the purpose of marriage. Marriage was ordained for the “procreation of children,” as a “remedy against sin,” and for the mutual society, help, and aid of the couple (Book of Common Prayer 1929).

    These three concepts are external to us whereas the modern litany of autonomy, choice, and authenticity are self-focused. We enter into Christian marriage for the purpose of bringing children into the world who will be raised in the faith. We enter into Christian marriage for the purpose of limiting and focusing our sexual expression to one with whom we enter a solemn covenant. We enter into Christian marriage to support, encourage, love, and suffer with our spouse. These are concrete obligations that have stood the test of time and which tower over the mantra of “to thine own self be true” that has so bewitched our current moment.

    Given the growing polyamory movement, is it really specious to argue that the legalization and normalization of same sex marriage will be the dropping of a domino whose tumble will have subsequent repercussions? I think not.

    You can read the rest here.

    Who is my neighbor?

    ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’

    And then the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

    On Saturday I experienced a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. After spending the morning doing various things to serve our downtown community, members of our church went out and invited everyone they met to have lunch with us. Many came.

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    It was a powerful experience that taught me several lessons about myself, humanity, the gospel, and the church:

    1. Myself: My fear of being patronizing often causes me to hold back. I deeply desire to encounter those with  fewer resources, less cultural power, and (perhaps) greater physical need as equals. This can be difficult to do, and so the fear of perceiving myself as a savior often causes me to miss out on deeper relationships with those who are different than myself.
    2. Humanity: All of us are united both in our dignity and our degradation. The photo above is linked to a collection of portraits of homeless people. As I clicked through the gallery, I was struck by the juxtaposition of dignity and degradation. Stare into the piercing gazes of these people and you will see their dignity. Eyeball don’t age, do they? Yet, those same eyes are set in a deteriorating and unwashed body. It’s no different for me. The form may be different, but I too combine dignity and degradation.
    3. The Gospel: The invitation to the banquet only deeply resonates with those who recognize their need. Those who respond to the message of the gospel are those who see their need. Those who joined us for a simply lunch of sloppy joe’s and potato salad where those who recognized and admitted their need for a free meal.
    4. The Church: The church is a parable of Jesus and so together our story has to mirror Jesus’ story in the gospels. It’s quite difficult for anyone to encounter Jesus in abstraction. Most of us will encounter Jesus through a message-bearer. As the church, we are the bearers of the message that there is free grace offered to us by God through Christ.

    Let’s be clear, I’m no Mother Theresa. I am, at best, an apprentice at loving my neighbor. However, God met even me in the simple act of sharing a meal with those in our downtown neighborhood.