• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

What do I have to learn from others?

Rebecca and I attended another local church this past Sunday.  A friend had asked if I would be willing to preach there during the month of July. It was the first time Rebecca and I had ever attended this church, even though it’s only a fifteen minute drive from where live.

Despite the fact that it is a local church of a sister organisation, most of what happened during the worship service was very ‘different’ for us.  ‘Different’ not in a bad sense, but ‘different’ in that it made us consider other perspectives or ways of approaching life and ministry.

Never stop learningLet me give you a couple of examples.  First, during the time of prayer, everyone prayed, all at the same time.  In our local church, maybe in yours as well, people pray out loud one at a time, one after the other, during time dedicated to open prayer.  Now I had experienced this kind of ‘all together’ prayer in small group contexts, but never in a church meeting of 40+ people.  Second, they gave room for people to grow in their gifts and talents.  The young woman leading worship explained, at one point, that a year ago she did not know how to play the guitar.  However, the need arose when their main worship leader left.  So, the church encouraged her to learn how to play the guitar and let her ‘grow’ in her ability over the past year.  She is now writing worship music which local Christian editors would like her to include in a new release of songbooks for churches. Third, for a small church they had an exciting and adventurous vision.  At the end of the service, the pastor explained that he would be leaving for Africa that week because of a ministry opportunity the church had to train a group of women in microfinance.  This would allow these women to meet the physical needs of their families as well as open doors of opportunity for the church to minister to the community where these women live.  As we left, Rebecca and I both commented on how amazing it was that such a small church could have such a large vision.

So, what happened for us in that two hour time frame this past Sunday?  We learned that we have plenty to learn from others.  I certainly shared from God’s Word which I believe encouraged and built up this group. However, I think we learned tons more from being with and interacting with this group of believers most of whom we had never met before.

What do I have to learn from others?  For one, that God works in a myriad of ways in the lives and hearts of His people.

Digging in

During graduate studies, I asked my primary professor (or lecturer) whdigging inat he would recommend I do to continue to grow in spiritual understanding and character.  His simple words were: “Select each year one topic of study, one area of life, and dig into it.”

Those words have served me well.

Biblical support for such a practice can surely be found in texts such as 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Yet, the truth being said, such a habit is not easy to regularly or consistently practice.

We live in a ‘create buzz’ society.  Some idea, new start-up or project gets a lot of play and energy for a very short time period, and then we move onto something else.  I have heard it said that if you don’t capture someone’s attention in the first 1m30 of a video, the person will ‘get bored’ and move onto something else.  Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this ‘speed of interest’.  However, if it is not balanced with effort spent thinking, studying and working on specific issues and needs in ministry and life, then one risks being more easily ‘tossed about’ by whatever may come our way.

It takes perseverance to ‘dig in’.  In ourselves, we don’t have that ‘stick-to-it tiveness’.  Sharing with others around us what our ‘plan’ might be for the next six months would go a long way to getting us started to ‘dig in’ well.

Why I love boards

Some of you read that title and thought, “Is he nuts?”  For most oboring board meetingf us, the topic of boards and board meetings is particularly dull.  Nothing could feel more unpalatable to our spiritual souls than sitting through a ‘bored’ meeting.

No, I do not believe I am ‘nuts’ to think that boards and board meetings are worth a second look.  And this past weekend reaffirmed my ‘love’ of boards.

I spent Saturday morning and some of the afternoon with people like Ray, Cedric, Tom and Anthony.  Several markers of that time together stood out for me.

One marker was time.  These four, along with others, gave up precious time from their full-time jobs to spend a day hearing about WT ministries, making decisions to remove obstacles which might hinder those ministries, and praying for those ministries.  If they didn’t believe in World Team, they wouldn’t choose to spend a Saturday in a board meeting when they could have been doing something else.

A second marker was insight. The various boards of WT and our partners are made up of people who bring incredible insight to the table; people who see things differently then we as cross cultural workers.  Ray made one comment during our conversations which was my primary ‘take-away’ from the meeting.  Up to that point, I had never even considered the insight that he shared.

The third marker was shared vision.  I wish I could come up with a better phrase, but these four are thrilled to be part of what WT is doing in the world, thrilled to be able to contribute in some way to helping WT accomplish its vision, thrilled to be standing behind us as cross cultural workers.  If they said it once, they said it at least five different times during our meeting: “We share the vision of World Team Global“.

Let me suggest two small follow up steps.  First, I would encourage each Ministry Support Centre board to put together a short photo/bio on each board member and send it to all members of the WT global community.  Second, I would encourage each of us to drop a short note of thanks to one board member.

Maybe that will help us begin to understand what boards and board members give to us as a World Team global community.

Preparing our minds for action

‘Drifting’ is something that can occur while standing and talking with someone.  I can be listening to the person, but in effect not really listening to them because I am not being ‘mindful’.  I am not ‘present’ with them at that moment.  Mindfulness is a discipline, a reflex that each of us should work on.

However, I also recognize that I can ‘drift’ in my walk with Christ.  I can go through the motions of spiritual disciplines without those disciplines or habits having enough impact to change the way I think and act.  I could say that ‘mindfulness’ applies not only to cross cultural communication, but to my life and ministry in general.

When Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” is that not in some way a call to mindfulness in regards to our spiritual life? 20-week

Each time you run a marathon or participate in a triathlon, there is a preparation schedule or plan that you follow.  That plan oftentimes extends over many months and is meant to help you in ‘building’ towards the actual event.

The good news is that we are not alone in this preparation.  Surrounded as we are by the community with whom we serve, we can daily remind one another to ‘prepare our minds for action’.  Becoming more mindful in our life and ministry is a joint effort.

Listening to God is just hard

Have you ever taken an inventory of your prayer life?  I don’t mean an inventory of requests made and answers given.  I’m talking about an accounting of what you say when you pray.

Just doing a quick ‘check’ of the past few days, I came to the following conclusions:

  • I did a fair job of varying praise, thanksgiving, and prayer requests (little prideful thinking there).
  • Many times, I found myself praying: “And I want to ask you to …hear his voice
  • Basically I talked and God listened.

Listening, as I wrote yesterday, is just plain hard.  It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about others and understanding what is on their mind.  Maybe I could rephrase that in regards to prayer by saying that listening is not about us, but about God and understanding what is on His mind.

At the recent Europe leadership meetings, the main speaker made us to take some significant time to just ‘listen’ to God in prayer.  ‘Significant’ for most of us means about 2-3 minutes.  What I took from that time was how hard it is to listen to God.  In other words, how hard it is to shut off our continual prayer request default mode and ‘hear’ Him speaking to us through His Word and through the time spent listening to Him.

It’s not something I am good at (maybe you feel the same way). It’s not something I can learn quickly.  It’s something I must practice.

I’ve picked up a couple of books to stir my thinking on the subject: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney; The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg, and The Attentive Life, Leighton Ford.

Perhaps you might have others to suggest.  However, the point is for me, for you, to practice listening to God.

Listening is just hard

Talking is fairly easy, even if one is shy or introverted.  It’s ‘easy’ because we work to convey what is on our mind, what is our opinion about a topic.  Listening, on the other hand, is just plain hard.  It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about othlistening bisers and understanding what is on their mind.

Listening calls for double duty.

For one, we must shut off our ‘answer’ default mode, that is, we must stop thinking about our every response to another’s comments.  The point of listening is to understand the process whereby the other arrived at his/her thoughts.

For another, we must focus on clarifying questions.  In order to understand what another is ‘working to convey’ to you, questions (thoughtful questions) will allow you to sound out another’s thought process.  The fruit of this kind of listening is that it helps the listener know better how to ‘intervene’ in the life of the other.  It will allow the one speaking to actually assess the import and soundness of his/her thoughts.

Listening is a skill. It is a competency that many of us must work on.

I had the benefit of a personal example of skill-full listening the other day.  Two close friends were over for a time of sharing and prayer together.  At one point, I ‘vented’ about some the frustrations I was experiencing.  I made some strong statements, some exaggerated statements.

Our friends did not immediately push back on me, trying to prove me wrong.  They asked numerous questions; at times rephrasing what I said to be sure they had heard what I was saying.  The questions were in no way contentious either.  They were carefully worded, and their impact was felt much later.  Yes, there were some responses on their part.  However, their questions caused me to re-examine what I had been saying and the ‘steps’ I had been considering to take.

I think our close friends had the harder work that night.  It was easy for me to talk.  I know it was hard for them to listen.  The result, however, was that their work of listening turned me back to the ‘everlasting way’ (Psalm 139:24).

Community can happen in a weekend

I just spent the past weekend with a dozen other cross cultural workers and leaders.  They came from all over the globe and are engaged in a variety of ministries.  We ‘thought’ the common denominator was that we all have the same executive coach.community Very quickly, we realized that the same common denominator was (and is) the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sounds obvious, you might say.   However, that common denominator allowed us to rather quickly build community between us.

Author Scott Peck in his book, A Different Drum, argues that community is built in a variety of ways, but that it is not always a function of time. This weekend brought that insight home.

There was nothing ‘fancy’ or complex about how we spent our time together. The first night, we shared with one another our background and family.  The next two days, we each presented our ministries, beginning with a Bible verse that has been meaningful to us.  No big Bible exposition.  The next person presenting prayed for the person who had just presented.  The last night, we shared what are ways to thrive (not survive) in ministry.  There was plenty of discussion around the meal tables as well as when we walked through the city.

The last night, one of the youngest among us said that she was amazed at how quickly she felt ‘at home’ to be able to share her heart; there was ‘safety’ in this community.  People understood the world she lived in and could spoke honestly to her.

We all need community.  One of the elements of our WT Ministry Framework is growing in community.  That community can take many forms and happen in different ‘time frames’.

Let us not shy away from community because it takes time, because it makes us vulnerable to others.  It took ‘time’ to participate in this retreat; not in terms of quantity, but in terms of choosing to spend my time differently than I might have this past weekend. Let us grow continually in community because the fruit will be evident in how we thrive in ministry, how we grow in resiliency.