Archive for February 2009

Listen and Learn

February 17, 2009

Recently, I read an article about “reverse mentoring.” (Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author’s name, nor the magazine. If this should ring a bell with you, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment). The idea began to resonate with me, so I thought I’d put down my own thoughts regarding the concept.

In short, reverse mentoring involves the old listening to the young, the experienced listening to the inexperienced, and the insider listening to the outsider. It has the value of opening our eyes to different perspectives and, perhaps, clearing up misconceptions between generations or groups. I think it has particular value for those steeped in the culture of “church.”

Most of the evangelism training I’ve had over the years focused on sharing my personal Christian testimony and/or how to present the plan of salvation in x number of steps. These courses had value as they helped me articulate my faith in a clear and concise manner. Unfortunately, the majority of these courses left me ill-equipped to actually listen to those with whom I wished to share. Too often, I felt as if I were giving a sales presentation rather than building a bridge with a living soul. That has been a source of frustration with me for many years. However, when individuals have sensed that I was genuinely interested in them, they were more apt to listen to me.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned the value of listening – even to those with whom I may not agree. In the process of reverse mentoring, we allow someone to share their perspective on a variety of issues – from faith and culture to politics and the economy. It’s an eye-opening experience to hear from those with completely different perspectives, and it challenges us to be better equipped to defend our own positions. We can do this is a respectful, engaging manner (despite what we often see on the public stage, particularly in the area of political discourse.)

The apostle Paul encouraged his young protoge’, Timothy, in this regard. Timothy was a very young pastor, serving in a culture where age and experience was revered and the younger generation was generally tolerated but not taken seriously. In 1 Timothy 4:12, he tells Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Obviously, Paul was speaking as a mentor himself. But he encouraged Timothy to exercise his faith as a young man – to be ready to mentor those older than him. In our modern context, all to often our various generations and groups speak past one another without really comprehending each other. That is a tragedy, particularly for the church as we seek to impact our broad culture for Christ.

If we simply view people as projects rather than individuals who are created in the image of God, we can fall into the trap of an “us” v. “them” mindset. The goal of reverse mentoring is not to compromise our beliefs. The goal is to build relationships between the younger and the older, between the follower of Christ and the agnostic or skeptic, and between the traditional and the fringe. Look to the gospels and see how Jesus accomplished that very thing. It may feel awkward and there will be  deep chasms to cross created by differing ideas, values, and world-views. Building bridges is hard work. But as we learn more about those we call “different” or those with whom we disagree, we become better equipped to engage them in serious conversation.

And isn’t that where the Great Commission begins?

If I Were Starting Again . . .

February 9, 2009

(Note: This came out of a conference I led for a group of Ministers of Education in Alabama. It’s not particularly profound, but maybe it will provide some food for thought.)

I enjoy serving as a Minister of Education in a local church. That’s probably a good thing, considering I’m probably not qualified to do much else. I enjoy my role as an equipper, encourager and minister, but sometimes I look back and “wish that I knew then what I know now.” No, I’m not speaking of regrets – think of this as a list of suggestions for anyone who is involved in Christian education – whether as a vocational minister, or Sunday School teacher, or small-group leader. Some of these, through God’s grace, I managed to get right the first time. Others, well, not so much.

As always, feel free to leave comments or add your ideas to the list.

If I were starting again as a minister of education, I would . . .

* Make my relationship with God my top priority and my family right behind that. No other relationships come close.
* Read – read – read
* Get to know others in my field – find a colleague that’s been doing this a while and pick his or her brain.
* Remember that people are more important than programs.
* Become my pastor’s friend and confidant. If I can’t be his friend, I’ll be loyal. If I can’t with integrity be loyal, I’ll find another place to serve.
* Network
* Be an encourager and equipper for my volunteer leaders
* Maintain my physical health through reasonable diet and exercise
* Develop interests outside of my “church job”: e.g. hunt, fish, collect stamps, play the bagpipes . . .
* Develop relationships outside the church
* Take all of my vacation time
* Write things down (journal, blog, list, etc.)
* Focus my best efforts on things that really matter
* Pray more. A LOT more
* Say “no” more
* Read – read – read . . . outside my areas of responsibility or expertise
* Sit in Bible study classes – not to teach, but to listen and learn
* Write more “thank you” notes to people who have encouraged me, helped me, prodded me
* Not take myself or my position so seriously
* Get out of the office more to serve in the community
* Take more pictures (You will REALLY be glad you did!)
* Spend more one-on-one time with leaders, less time in group meetings
* Think outside the box, once you’ve determined what’s IN the box
* Don’t fear failure – learn from mistakes
* Be a friend
* Continue to grow in faith
* Be transparent
* Be humble
* Be grateful
* Get over being a leader. Get into being a servant
* Have fun!

Godliness with Contentment

February 3, 2009

Unless you have been living on a remote desert island, you are aware of the world-wide economic meltdown that has been underway for the past few months. It seems that the primary focus of the new administration and congress is to address this problem. Politicians, pundits and every average Joe has an opinion on this financial crisis, but no one really seems sure how to “fix” it.

Christians are not exempt from the economic downturn. We all know people who have lost jobs, retirement accounts devalued and stores that have closed or are on the precipice. Perhaps you’ve been hit particularly hard yourself. It’s a trying time for everyone and we are left wondering, “What next?”

In the midst of the upheavel, we need to be reminded that our source of peace and security does not lie in the hands of the government or Wall Street. Our hope and security lies in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:35-37 reminds us: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The implied answer to “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” is – No-one and no-thing! Although we are not exempt from hardship or trying times, our circumstances cannot separate us from Him. We all need to cling to that promise.

So, how do we face such uncertain times? How do we live out our faith as followers of Christ when the world is in an uproar?

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protoge’, Timothy, who was facing similar trying times:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. – 1 Timothy 3:6-7

Godliness . . . with contentment. The two go hand in hand. And therein lies our security – the peace of Christ in our hearts – NOT financial gain (despite what the prosperity gospel advocates say). As we adhere to the teachings of Christ by living godly lives of obedience, we discover great contentment – in spite of the chaotic circumstances that surround us. Living godly lives does not exempt us from trials. Far from it. Paul shared his own experiences thusly . . .

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. – 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Did you catch that? Godliness does not exempt us from trials. In fact, it opens us up to persecution! Today, most of us are struggling over financial issues and the future as a result of the actions of such “evil men” who have done much damage to our financial system. But don’t miss what Paul also said in the middle of this passage – “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” Our Lord is in the rescuing business. We may face difficult times for the foreseeable future. Our savings may dwindle and our retirement accounts evaporate. And we may endure even further financial setbacks. Yet, in the midst of it all, the people of God are called to live godly lives with contentment. That contentment is a sense of peace and gratitude for how the Lord has blessed us and the provision for our needs – both now and in the future. It is confidence in the One who knows what tomorrow holds.

Followers of Jesus are not exempt from hard times. But neither are we exempt from remaining faithful to Him. In fact, in times of uncertainty we have a tremendous opportunity to be both encouragers and servants as people see foundations made of sand washed away. This is not a time for God’s people to point fingers of blame; it is a time for us to extend a cup of water in Jesus’ name and point toward Him as the way, the truth and the life.