Archive for the ‘Relationships’ category

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?

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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!

Facebook v. Face-to-Face

January 13, 2009

I like Facebook. Let me say that up front.

For those of you not familiar with Facebook, it is an on-line social networking phenomenon that allows individuals to connect with other people around the world. It’s easy, fun (and potentially addictive.)

Through Facebook, I’ve been able to connect with friends I’ve not seen in many years. It also provides a way to keep up with family members and local friends, particularly within my church. It allows me a place to post comments, share photos, pass along prayer requests, send virtual gifts such as bumper stickers and “flair” (virtual buttons), link to my blog, join groups and carry on conversations.

Well . . . sort of.

Though I am a fan of Facebook as a networking tool, I’ve come to realize its limitations. For starters, you aren’t looking at your friends face-to-face. You can’t pick up on facial expressions or changes in voice tone. You miss out on body language with its subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) gestures. Oh yeah, we can add smilies (or type in all-caps when we want to shout) but even then our messages might be misconstrued.

In other words, the Facebook experience is insulated and isolated from the real, sometimes messy and awkward, face-to-face interaction. We call that a “degree of separation.” Sometimes that’s good a good thing (the reason that bloggers are often referred to as the “pajamas media”) whereby we can interact with people from the comfort of our homes without worrying about how we’re dressed. That isolation has a down-side however, if our ONLY contact with other people is through an on-line social network. All of us need real face-time with other people. There are times we need a literal shoulder to cry on, a literal pat on the back for encouragement, a literal hug of affection, or a literal fist-bump of camaraderie. Not only do we need to receive these physical touches, we need to spread them – even if it’s just a smile. There are times when bytes of data streaming across a wireless connection are a poor substitute for real flesh and blood contact, non-Photoshopped warts and all.

I’m not advocating closing your Facebook accounts, far from it. I am advocating a healthy balance between virtual connections and the kind that only happens in person.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone just sent me a tweet on Twitter.