An Eternal Moment

Every once in a while I find myself participating in an important moment. These moments rarely arise because of planning. They just happen. Last evening I was part of one of these moments. It took place after the DOOR Atlanta board meeting at Manuel’s Tavern. I like going there because they have two prime parking spots reserved for clergy. There were eight of us around the table. Two board members, our Atlanta City Director, my friend Anton, me and three Discern staff representing three of our DOOR cities. These2013-08-12 22.48.07 Discerners were in Atlanta for a Fund for Theological (FTE) event. Chris is from the west side of Chicago and has worked for DOOR every summer for the past 10 years. Today he is a confident 20 something about to complete his Master of Communication Studies, but I remember the high school freshman who was so skinny the wind could blow him over. Manny just completed his third summer in Denver. He likes to claim Los Angeles as his home town, but he spent most of his teen years in Denver and is a member of the church our family attends. Kelli spent one summer in both Denver and Hollywood. She came to DOOR through a more “traditional path;” she came as a Discover participant, liked the program and applied for a summer staff position. Here were these three young adults – a Hispanic, an African American and an Anglo.

For two hours we sat at that table. The waiter could hardly get a word in to take our order. The conversation was animated, passionate and emotional. We began with the “simplest” of topics, how should we think about sexual orientation? This went on for about 45 minutes. Once we had come to a general consensus we moved on to talking about how working for DOOR has impacted each of their lives. For each of them working with a diverse staff had helped them to better understand who they were and the radical breadth of the kingdom of God. The concept of “For God so loved the world” had taken on new meaning.

One of our hiring commitments is to find people who are different from one another and ask them to work together in unity. Our staff comes to us from urban, rural and suburban settings. Some have been raised in the church while others are new to the Sunday thing. They are young adults of color and they are Anglo. Some are progressive while others hold a more conservative theology. All of this diversity could be viewed as a prescription for disaster. I am constantly surprised that this doesn’t blow up in our face. Every year these young adults choose to define themselves first by what they hold in common. When this happens everyone is given a glimpse of what the church can be.

Disruptions

For years I have been asking God for the perfect year.  In this year there would be enough money to pay all the bills; staff conflict and misunderstanding would be non-existent; DOOR evaluations would be excellent; my boys would get perfect grades while at the same time never skip a class; I would get enough sleep every night; every airplane flight would come with a complementary upgrade; and my car would never breakdown.  So far God hasn’t come through! This past week I participated in a “Consultation on Cultivating a New Generation of Christian Leaders” put on by The Fund for Theological Education.  During the opening session one of the speakers emphasized the importance on “disruptive experiences;” those moments when the best laid plans seem to fall apart.  Then she went on to say that smooth sailing through life does not produce people of depth and grit.  More significantly it is failure and pain that produce people and leaders of substance.

This reality produces an interesting conflict.  I have no desire to go out and intentionally fail.  As a parent I work hard at sheltering my boys from pain.  When I write my end of year reports for DOOR, it is much easier to talk about success.  Currently we are in the process of hiring a new City Director for Atlanta. When we look a resumes we prioritize folks with a successful track-record.

Years ago I had a college professor who claimed that 3.0 students made the best leaders.  They knew something about success but more importantly were all too aware of their own short-comings.

As a 16 year-old I was hired by a local rancher to help during haying season.  He immediately put me on a tractor and had me bailing.  Halfway through the day he sent me to the fuel tank to fill up.  When I arrived I noticed there were two caps on the tractor, not sure which one to open, I guessed.  To my embossment I ended up filling the radiator with diesel fuel – not a smart thing to do.  As I was finishing the owner came by and noticed my error; he was not happy.  It was one of those moments when I should have been fired.  Instead he had me fix the problem which involved about two hours of work.  Once we were done he walked away and muttering, “It’s not worth firing you now, because you will never make that mistake again.”

I don’t think I will ever intentionally put people into situations simply to help them fail.  That said, I cannot help but wonder what it means to create space for failure and disruption, to appreciate these moments as opportunities for growth and development.

Creative Leadership

Last fall I attended a meeting where Stephen Lewis of the Fund for Theological Education spoke about creative leadership.  Early on he claimed that “creative leaders are people who convene gatherings of diverse people because innovation only happens at the collision of diverse ideas.”   I had mostly forgotten about this comment until this week when I read a post from Duke Divinity School where the author references some research by Randall Collins. He asserts that “all intellectual breakthroughs across the history of the world, across cultures around the world, consistently have depended upon sustained relationships of people from diverse backgrounds interacting with one another over time.”

This makes sense to me.  Hanging out with people who see the world differently than I do pushes my assumptions and challenges my beliefs.  When I am pushed, I grow, change and mature.  I become a better, more tolerant person.

So, why do I spend so much time and effort avoiding being pushed?  If I am going to be honest it is my secret desire that everyone just agrees with me and accepts my perspectives.  Being confronted with my own short-sightedness, prejudices and incomplete worldview is embarrassing.  It is much more comfortable and easy to simply be right, or at least believe that I am right. 

Innovative leadership and creative ministry require space for diversity, at every conceivable level.  Those who have the courage and humility to allow for diversity will find themselves not only on the cutting edge but creating the edge itself.

Not Knowing, doubt

During my senior year of college I was required to write 5 and 10 year goals for my life.  It was assumed that developing a vision for life after college was a good thing.  A plan would help me to map out the next few years.  Graduation would not be a step into the unknown but rather a step into the known. Lately I have started to question the value of planning and knowing.  How much control do we actually have over the future?

The other week I was at a Calling Congregation’s conference put on by the Fund for Theological Education.   Barbra Brown Taylor delivered the closing sermon. Her topic was “The Value of Not Knowing.”

When God called Abram in Genesis 12, Abram was just told to go, the destination was not given.  Can you imagine telling your spouse and family that you are moving?  You just don’t know where, but God will reveal it somewhere down the road.

Can you imagine being one of the first disciples and explain the call to your family?  “Sorry Mom and Dad, I need to quit the family business and follow this unknown rabbi.”  Other then the “fisher of people” promise, Jesus didn’t say a whole lot.  How were they going to support themselves?  What kind of career opportunities did following Jesus lead to?

Shortly after hearing Barbra’s sermon, I was at a gathering where Peter Rollins, an Irish Theologian, shared.  He spoke of the importance of doubt.   Not just a surface doubt, but a doubt that shakes the very core of an individual’s belief in God.  He spoke of a doubt that creates a space for atheism to emerge.

Consider Matthew 27:46, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Even Jesus experienced a doubt that lead to atheism.

For most of my adult life I have tied knowing and certainty to Christian maturity.  I am much less certain of this today.  To be honest, most of the time I don’t know where God is leading me and sometimes (the “sometimes” should be read as an understatement) I am not sure that God is present.

Can you imagine being part of a church where even the pastor has the space to doubt and not know?  Is it possible for the church to be a place where uncertainty and not knowing are understood as normative?

Creating Space

I like hearing testimonies of how individuals experience the call to ministry.  This week I had the opportunity to listen to a round table discussion including three pastors sharing about their journey into full-time ministry.  The sheer variety of ways that people experience the call tends to make these stories engaging, sad and funny all at the same time.  It always amazes me how the call comes so uniquely to each person.  For me, this has always been an affirmation of how God respects and honors our individuality.  It is good to know that God is not in the “cookie cutter” call to ministry business.

It came as a mild surprise when a common call theme emerged.  Each one of these people talked about other, more mature leaders who created a space for them to exercise their talents and gifts.  They also recognized that it was risky, in some cases even dangerous, to let young potential leaders lead.  But in all cases it was the willingness of the established leaders to create a space for young positional leaders to lead that became the moment when the call to ministry was solidified.

It is easy to talk about “raising the next generation of leaders.”  It is quite another thing to actually do this.  It requires risk.  It means that things will not always work out perfectly and some things will go horribly wrong.

Isn’t this what Jesus did?  He found 12 folks willing to be his disciples.  He risked everything on them.  They certainly weren’t perfect at the beginning.  They argued about who was the best.  They wanted to call down fire on people who didn’t agree with them.  They ditched Jesus in his hour of need and one even betrayed him to death.

But Jesus was willing to create a space for them to become leaders.  Eventually they rose to the task (read Acts).

Maybe church leadership isn’t as much about perfect worship and impeccable preaching as it is about creating spaces for emerging leaders to test their call to leadership.

No multitasking

I hate it when my world view gets challenged. For example, I like to do lots of things at the same time.  It is not unusual for me to be on a staff call, responding to email, texting my wife, and eating lunch all at the same time.  For the most part I have never considered this to be a problem.  As a matter of fact I have viewed this “skill” as a demonstration of efficiency and good stewardship.

Earlier this week I was at a meeting sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education.  During the opening session we were presented with a Covenant of Presence.  This document listed 12 touchstones for healthy conversations:

  1. Be present as fully as possible
  2. Listen generously
  3. What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand
  4. We come as equals
  5. Author your story
  6. Hold each other’s stories with care
  7. Respond to others with open honest questions
  8. No fixing, no saving, no advising, no judging and no setting each other straight
  9. When the going gets rough, turn to wonder
  10. Be mindful and respectful of time
  11. Practice confidentiality care
  12. Know that it is possible to emerge from our time together refreshed, surprised and less burdened than when we came

After we were finished the group leader asked if anything was missing.

 I thought the list was complete.

 But every group has one person who feels they have something to say. This gathering was no different.

 A gentleman on the other side of the room raised his hand.  In my mind, this was the perfect opportunity to check my cell phone for new messages.  Before I was able to retrieve my phone out of my backpack, his words caught my attention.

 “No multitasking should be added to the list.  It is not possible to be fully present with other people when you are multitasking.”

 My initial reaction was completed disagreement.  This was the kind of statement that could change my way of getting things done.  The more I have thought about what this man had to say, the more I find myself recognizing the truth of his statement.

 Multitasking devalues what I am doing and when people are involved it devalues relationships.

 Philippians 2:7 talks about Jesus emptying himself. He chose not to multitask; he became focused.

 The next time you are visiting with a friend and the phone rings, try letting it go to voice mail.  When your spouse wants to talk, turn off the TV.  Learning to be fully present is a good skill to cultivate.