Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stop The Boats!?

There is a lot of political rhetoric flying around Australia at the moment about stopping the flood of boats carrying asylum seekers from reaching Australian waters.  Both sides of politics are playing the blame game, promising the impossible and in it all seem to be completely missing the point!

Politics, parochialism and prejudice only serve to distort and devalue the very real issue of desperate human beings seeking refuge from poverty and persecution.  These boats are filled with some of the most vulnerable people on earth, leaving unthinkable circumstances for an uncertain future.  Stopping the boats may win votes but does nothing to address why people are on the boats in the first place!!

Stopping the boats does not solve the problem!


Stopping the boats redirects the problem to someone else!


Stopping the boats exposes the passengers to even greater risk!  

Stopping the boats denies our responsibility as global citizens!

I recently discussed the biblical mandate for how to treat foreigners in my post Kingdom Citizenship, but add to those thoughts a plea to all Australians, as we approach the upcoming election, not to allow emotive and deceptive campaign slogans to corrupt the essense of what makes us human.  Instead, let us resolve as a nation to stop any form of injustice that creates the demand for the boats.  Let us redefine the political agenda so that stopping the boats has no political advantage.  And let us refuse to turn our backs on those who are seeking what we celebrate as a nation to be a fundamental right for all human beings.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Leadership Lament

There is a tension in my spirit as I write this post because I do not want to come across as self righteous or unfairly judgmental.  However, I am struggling to reconcile a form of leadership I witnessed this week with everything I know to be right and honourable about leaders.  The more I learn about empowering leadership, the deeper my discontentment grows with anything less!

It is not appropriate for me to discuss the circumstances of the observations I am referring to in this forum, but there are lessons to be learned and shared to perpetuate the sort of leadership that builds people up, not tears them down. The following are brief reflections on some fundamental leadership principles that I have seen violated, yet ought to be foundational to any leadership relationship or context.

Whenever there is a COMMUNICATION breakdown between two leaders it is usually related to unmet expectations from one or both parties.  Relational intelligence would suggest the moment you detect that expectations are not being met you would seek dialogue with the offending party to redefine those expectations.  I believe the earlier this is done, the risk of resentment creeping into the relationship is minimized and the likelihood of respect growing in the relationship is maximized. It is unproductive to avoid these conversations or to abdicate them because they are uncomfortable.

There is something inherent about CONFLICT that causes insecure leaders to avoid it or manifest it in a destructive manner.  Conflict in any working relationship is not only inevitable, but is essential to wrestling with the issues that matter to what and whom you are leading.  Rather than managing out or suppressing conflict, it needs to be encouraged and embraced in a healthy manner (read Embrace The Conflict for further discussion).  We need people on our teams who will disagree with us and we need to make it safe for them to do so if we are going to be effective and empowering leaders.

It is the responsibility of any leader at any level of an organisation to COACH the people on their team to lift the lid of their leadership to a higher level.  In the absence of intentional leadership development opportunities within a team, the team leader, in part, is accountable for the poor performance of team members.  We seem to have little problem applying this principle to a sporting club when the coach is sacked for the poor performance of the team, but paradoxically the reverse usually applies in the workplace.

John Maxwell often quotes, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you CARE."  Leaders who devalue the personal lives of those they lead while trying to uphold the interests of the organisation find themselves in a self-defeating cycle.  Nurturing people through personal challenges will evoke a loyalty and commitment to an organisation that cannot be bought.  Leaders who demonstrate genuine care and concern (not just give lip service), find a greater responsiveness when the need for correction of performance issues arises.

I find it indefensible that these basic leadership principles are not only violated, but justified, to maintain image, manage risk or mitigate problems.  It grieves me to see potential leaders discouraged and competent leaders disillusioned by a dis-empowering style of leadership.  Yet, it strengthens my resolve to "equip the people of God for the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ."  

The level of discontentment I felt this week is not only a sober reminder of the dark side of leadership, but a summons to reflect the character of Christ and to continue to develop and grow as an empowering leader.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Culture Shift

I started reading the book "Culture Shift" by Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro the other day, which is providing a helpful insight into church culture and a practical guide to "transforming [the] church from the inside out."

Right at the preface I was captured by the authors belief that "culture is to the church what a soul is to the human body."  In other words, as I interpret it, culture is a mirror into the soul of a church.  

I wonder if we spent more time cultivating a healthy soul than clothing the body with programs that make a church look good, whether we would begin to heal some of the internal sickness that inhibits the church from being a thriving organism.  Church activity that is the product of a healthy culture will always produce growth, but church activity that proceeds from an unhealthy culture will spread the sickness and cripple the body of Christ.

If the human soul reflects the core of who you are as a person, I wonder what reflection is cast by the culture of your church?  This is a challenging question that will require some soul searching by church leaders to stimulate the sort of culture shift necessary to restore the witness of the church to reflect the heart of Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Featured Blog - Major Gary Grant

Gary Grant:  Function With Unction

Embrace The Conflict

“Unless one has considered alternatives, one has a closed mind.  This, above all, explains why effective decision-makers deliberately disregard the second major command of the textbooks on decision-making and create dissension and disagreement, rather than consensus.” (Peter F. Drucker)

Contrary to popular opinion, conflict is not the enemy of decision making, but a crucial part of the process of reaching well considered decisions with maximum buy-in by key stakeholders.  No matter how visionary, passionate or experienced a leader may be, decisions made in a conflict free environment run the risk of isolating critical and creative thinkers and compromising effective decision making.

When I speak of conflict in this context, I am not referring to destructive, personality based conflict, but constructive, ideological conflict that wrestles with issues relative to achieving a shared goal.  To engage in this type of conflict, leaders need to surround themselves with people who not only have a common vision but who bring diversity of personality and thinking to the team.  Leaders need to cultivate an environment of trust where this diversity of engagement can be safely expressed and where disagreement is embraced as a necessary part of the process.  

Unfortunately, this seems not to be the norm for the majority of teams I observe due to an innate fear of conflict.  Rather than recruit diversity of thought, some leaders prefer to retain people who only think the same as them.  While it may seem easier to advance your mission with like minded people on the front end, it comes at a cost on the back end of the decision making process.  This is something I have had to learn the hard way due to my personality type and leadership style.  As a passionate and driven leader who likes to make decisions quickly and take the shortest route to achieving a goal, I am often frustrated by process.  However, due to the coaching of great leaders who are secure enough not to be threatened by diversity and who are smart enough to value it, I have grown to resist my natural tendency to bypass process and have learned to leverage it to make more effective decisions.  In fact, the more passionate I am about an idea, the more determined I am to draw on the collective wisdom of diverse thinkers to ensure the idea is given every possibility to succeed.  So much so, that if I sense people on my team are holding back, in the words of leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni,  I will "mine for conflict" so that all views are considered to reach the best possible decision.

It concerns me deeply when leaders stack a team with "yes" people or worse, disband a team in favour of less resistance.  We seriously compromise our ability to effectively lead a team when we set ourselves up as the primary decision maker without the robust input of other leaders, which also undermines our ability to empower those who are excluded from the decision making process.  In saying that, discernment must be exercised to ensure that we are inviting the right type of conflict from the right type of people.  Patrick Lencioni talks about the importance of developing a foundation of trust in a team around shared values and vision to engage in healthy conflict to advance the mission of the organisation.  Where there is no trust and a misalignment of vision, the chances are this will create the wrong type of conflict from people who are not committed to a common goal.

Learning to embrace the conflict stimulates creative interaction within a team where ego is set aside in the interest of well considered decisions that team members are willing to commit to and be held accountable for, despite disagreement during the process.  

“Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision.”  (Peter F. Drucker)

Friday, June 14, 2013

We're Gonna Need A Team

Classic quote from Fast & Furious 5:

Brian O'Conner: You realize we're talking about going up against the most powerful guy in all of Rio?
Dominic Toretto: Yes, we are.
Brian O'Conner: Then we're gonna need a team.

When you are engaged in a commission issued by the Creator of the universe to participate in the discipleship of all humankind, which will place you in a full frontal spiritual assault against all the forces of darkness, you are going to need a team! 

At the creation of humankind God recognised that it was "not good for man to be alone" and created "a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18).  At the commencement of Jesus earthly mission He "appointed twelve - designating them apostles - that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3:14-15).  At the commission of the disciples Jesus told them, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).  At the coming of the Holy Spirit the disciples were "all together in one place" when "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:1-4).  At the conversion of thousands who responded to the preaching of the early church "all the believers were together and had everything in common" and "every day they continued to meet together...enjoying the favour of all the people" (Acts 2:44-47). 

It seems to me that we have been created to be in community, called to live in community and commissioned to engage with community to experience the fulness of the triune God and effectively fulfill His mission!  If anyone is under the illusion that they can live out their faith alone and do mission as a solo act, they have completely misunderstood God's intention for His church and have underestimated the tactics of Satan to isolate the sheep from the fold and to divide the body of Christ.  

The Apostle Paul emphasises the importance of unity and teamwork in his letters to the churches:   "As it is, there are many parts, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20-25); "I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel" (Philippians 1:4-5); "The whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly" (Ephesians 4:16); "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12).

The writer to the Hebrew Christians also nailed it when he said, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I am passionate about the body of Christ and fully embrace my leadership mandate to "equip the people of God for the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ" so that we can utilise every spiritual gift and mobilise a Spirit filled army to effectively spread the gospel and advance the kingdom of God!  More than ever before we're gonna need a team "to proclaim good news to the proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:18-19).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Jesus Is Enough

Among the many seekers at the Body, Mind & Spirit Festival in Melbourne this weekend were Christians; people who have committed their lives to Christ, but were curious about what they might find at this festival. While I understand the attraction of the festival to people who are on a spiritual quest and are yet to encounter the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it was those who had experienced God's grace but were looking for more that concerned me the most.

Through a number of conversations with these Christians, it was interesting to observe the discomfort, almost embarrassment, in their demeanor as they tried to justify their attendance at the festival to another Christ follower.  It was as though they intuitively knew they were somewhere they shouldn't be and were trying to convince themselves as much as us that it was okay.  Far from wanting to cast judgement about the curiosity of another Christian, nor wanting to act as the spiritual conscience for another, it does raise a number of faith questions worth considering.

What is your real motive for attending the festival?
"Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought." (2 Chronicles 28:9)

What is missing in your faith experience?
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3)

What dangers are you exposing yourself to?
"Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:31)

What is the impact to the credibility of your testimony?
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling-block to the weak." (1Corinthians 8:9)

There is so much more I could say about the above verses that are but a representation of the entire counsel of God's Word on this matter, but it is not my intention to preach or to condemn but to guide towards the source of truth.  The Apostle Paul urges Christ followers to "continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Jesus IS "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6) and His Spirit "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).  Jesus warns us that "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy" and reminds us that He has "come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).  Jesus is more than enough!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Has The Church Failed?

I have begun writing this post on the train on my way home from an afternoon of extraordinary ministry at the Body, Mind & Spirit Festival in Melbourne because I can hardly contain what is stirring in my spirit (and the guy sitting next to me is asleep and the guy in front of me is glued to his iPhone)!  

First, I want to give praise to God for leading spiritually hungry and searching people to The Salvation Army stand at the festival. People were literally lining up for prayer, answers and direction from all walks of life and stages of faith.  Holy Spirit gave us amazing opportunities to speak about Jesus, explore people's faith journey, listen to some painful stories, share prophesy and pray for healing.  We even had a lady come back to tell us how she was miraculously healed at last years festival after receiving prayer at The Salvation Army stand!

I found myself confronted by some pretty strong conflicting emotions:  Excitement at the opportunities of ministry presented by the festival and disappointment at the missed opportunities by the Church, sadness at the number of spiritually lost and anger at the exploitation of the spiritually vulnerable.  It has left me asking why thousands of people will pay $18 admission and spend obscene amounts of money at such a festival in an attempt to have their spiritual yearnings met when Melbourne is saturated by Christian churches?  Has the Church failed at it's mission?  Have we missed the harvest?

At the risk of offending, I believe the attraction of the Body, Mind & Spirit Festival to spiritual seekers is an indictment on the Church!!

I praise God that amidst the brokenness and darkness there are Christians who are prepared to shine a light of hope and unashamedly proclaim the name of Jesus and the power of His Spirit to a lost and hurting world.  May this festival reignite a fire within every Christ follower to reach spiritual seekers and for every church to be a safe place for spiritual seekers to find the fulfilment they are searching for through Jesus Christ!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Do We Still Believe That People Need To Be Saved?

It always encourages me how God affirms something He is stirring in my spirit through the alignment of what He is simultaneously saying to others.  Last Sunday I wrote the blog post Imagine If... reflecting on what could happen if The Salvation Army invested the same level of energy, resources and time to mobilize Salvationists to engage in a week long salvation campaign as we did with the Red Shield Appeal.  At the welcome to the new Territorial leaders for the Australia Southern Territory, Commissioner Floyd Tidd asked the question, "Do we still believe that people need to be saved?  Don't answer with yes or no, show me the actions that reflect the answer to that question." This morning I presented the same question to our congregation and spoke passionately about the SALVATION mission of The Salvation Army, referring to Jesus response to the disciples in John 6:28-29.  So, I was excited to discover after church that a New Zealand Officer friend preached from the very same passage this morning as well!

Coming back to the Commissioners question, "Do we still believe that people need to be saved?" The default response of our congregation this morning was an overwhelming "Yes", however, if we were to measure the priority of our activity during any given week against our response, our results would suggest otherwise.  Like most Corps (churches), we are very busy serving people, meeting temporal needs, building relationships, running programs, etc. but how intentional are we about sharing the Gospel and inviting people into a relationship with Jesus?  When was the last time we led someone to faith?  Are we content with people just finding community rather than Christ?

Before I am misunderstood, let me be clear that I genuinely value the process that leads a person who is far from God to a place where they are open to engage in a spiritual conversation.  I celebrate compassionate ministry that cares for the most vulnerable people in our society.  I fully embrace a relational model of evangelism that takes us on a faith journey with people and recognise that this is a long journey for some.  And I believe that Holy Spirit is preparing the hearts and minds of unbelievers towards salvation and that our role is to connect with where the Spirit is already at work.  However, as I look around at the priority of activity in The Salvation Army, that is, where the majority of our time and resources are invested, the focus of our public relations and the tone of discussion on social media by Salvos, I'm not completely sure that our activity aligns with our rhetoric?   While we would agree there have been some less than helpful "methods" of evangelism that have devalued relationships and has presented something far less than "Good News", it seems to me that Salvationists have largely wandered far from the priority to "live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life."  That includes me!!

In the process of serving people we must remember that service is not the end goal but the means through which we can fulfill our primary mission of the salvation of the lost.  William Booth clearly articulated the priority of our salvation mission when he said, “We are a salvation people – this is our specialty – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within.”

Lord Jesus, reignite a passion for the lost in the spirit of every Christ follower.  Grant us the courage and wisdom to fearlessly and relationally share the Gospel in everything we do, making the salvation of the lost the first priority of our lives. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Imagine If...

A further post Red Shield Appeal reflection...

Last week I reflected on some Leadership Lessons gained from the Red Shield Appeal. Today, my reflection stretches my imagination into the realm of what could be if all the time, energy and resources invested into the Red Shield Appeal were channeled into the salvation mission of The Salvation Army.

While I fully embrace the integration of our social and spiritual mission and recognise the importance of resourcing this mission, I can't help wonder what sort of results we would be celebrating if we organisationally engaged in a salvation campaign with the same intensity as the Red Shield Appeal.

Imagine if we set aside a week on the calendar of every corps and centre for the salvation of the lost!

Imagine if we mobilised every Salvationist to reach their community with the Gospel!

Imagine if we set bold, faith driven goals to see how many people we could win for Christ in that week!

Imagine if we gave to our community instead of taking!

Imagine if "Thank God for the Salvos" became "Thank the Salvos for giving us Jesus"!

Imagine if our PR campaign publicly presented stories of people whose lives have been radically transformed by Jesus Christ!

Imagine if The Salvation Army "will bring [God] renown, joy, praise and honour before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things [God does] for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace [God] provides for it." (Jeremiah 33:9)

Imagine if "the Lord added to [our] number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47)

Imagine if every social media update and status was flooded with reports like: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Luke 7:22)

Imagine if The Salvation Army actually fulfilled the Great Commission!!

A Holy Spirit fueled movement of God could easily imagine such a possibility, because the same Spirit who filled the early church at Pentecost, fills His Church today.  Dare to imagine because, "It is [the] Gospel that houses the poor, benefits the working class, promotes temperance and good health, reforms criminals, and transcends politics.  It is Jesus Christ who changes lives and makes all these things possible.  It is Christ only who is the answer to the problems and struggles" (William Booth).