• 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!

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.

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.

Drifting

On a recent health questionnaire for a medical checkup here in Europe, I read the statement: “I have a tendency to doze off while reading.”  You were supposed to state whether that specific ‘tendency’ happened rarely, occasionally, often or regularly.  I thought the question was kind of silly.

However, early in this week I read the following quote from a book on building cultural intelligence: “The idea of mindfulness is what we often talk about as being “fully present” or “in the moment”. With our minds always active and thinking about a million different things, it is sometimes difficult to just be present and focus our attention squarely on our current situation and surroundings …. Mindfulness also goes beyond this and involves how we absorb and assimilate what we hear in interactions with others from different cultural backgrounds.”

wandering thoughtsTo put it in other terms, we can ‘drift’ when we are in discussion with others, when we are engaging others in conversation and dialogue.  We may be physically present in the same room, but we are kilometers away emotionally ,and are intellectually unengaged.  If that discussion involves others who are different from us (particularly culturally different), the ‘drift’ deprives us even more of opportunities to grow in our cultural intelligence and empathy.

Mindfulness then is a habit, a reflex, a discipline that needs to be developed.  It needs to be developed in order for us to be of greater service to God in a world that is growing more and more multicultural every day.

A small step in that discipline would be to try and summarize what was said in a conversation, at different intervals, and ask the other to amend or add to what you thought you heard.

It’s a bit of work, but the effort would be rewarded in greater ‘mindfulness’.

Ask who? (again)

Ad made a comment on my blog post yesterday.  Here’s what he wrote: “”Go directly to the people you have the hardest time with. Ask them what you’re doing that’s exacerbating the situation. They will surely tell you.”  Mmmh, what about if the people are from a culture with indirect communication?  Would not a mediator be better to ask that question?

Ad hit the proverbial ‘nail on the head’.  It’s why listening is so important, and why it is a skill that most of us need to be working on continually.  Not only will listening well help us benefit from the feedback we receive, it will teach us to look for the best context in which to ask and receive that feedback.

I think that is why the writers of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, stated earlier in yesterday’s quote: “… then there’s something going on that you’re not “getting,” and without her help, you’re not going to get it.  It may be a cultural difference that you need to understand if you’re going to be effective in her market.”

Not only do we need to be aware of cultural cues that we may be missing in our conversations, but we also need to understand how to ask for feedback in a culturally appropriate way.  If you are from an indirect culture, asking for feedback or receiving feedback will look quite different from those who are from direct cultures.

However, what remains constant is how we will choose to respond to that feethanksForFeedbackdback. 

It’s funny.  I can read the title of this book in two ways.  I could read it, “thanks for the feedback” and in my mind say it with a very begrudging tone.  Or, I could read it, “thanks for the feedback” and in my mind say it with an honest and grateful tone; thinking what I will “mine” from this feedback that will help me grow.

When you hear feedback, with what tone are you most often saying in your mind: “Thanks for the feedback”?

Listening to feedback isn’t fun

‘Feedback’ is a word that has recently come into the French vocabulary.  It’s been in the English vocabulary for quite a while, but can have a number of different meanings.  We could say, in its simplest expression, feedback “includes any information you get about yourself.”

Giving-FeedbackHonestly though, we’re not really keen on feedback.  We’re not really keen on it because it touches who we are, what we do, or in other words, our identity.

With that in mind, most of us, when we give feedback, tend to gloss over the true growth needs of others.  We don’t want to ‘do wrong’ to the other by pointing out areas where he/she needs further development.  Most of us, when we receive feedback, tend to dismiss (read ‘argue about’) what was shared with us.  “It’s just wrong,” might be a phrase that comes to our minds after receiving some feedback.  When we are on the receiving end, listening to feedback isn’t a lot of fun, or at least that is how we perceive it.

I just started reading the book: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well.  Two things stood out to me in the early pages of the book.

First, every piece of feedback has some good in it.  We may not like what is said or how it is said, but there are nuggets of wisdom and insight embedded in that feedback that could help us to grow in our character and competency.  A friend used to say: “In every criticism, there is an element of truth, otherwise it wouldn’t hurt so much.”  Our goal in receiving feedback is to sift through what we hear in order to learn how we might grow more.

Second, we need to distinguish between several different kinds of feedback.  The author of Thanks for the Feedback writes: “Broadly, feedback comes in three forms: appreciation (thanks), coaching (here’s a better way to do it), and evaluation (here’s where you stand).”  As a receiver of feedback, one of the first tasks must be to assess what kind of feedback we are talking about.  Our struggle with feedback can often be the result of misunderstanding the kind of feedback being offered.  Or it can be the result of a mix-up between the feedback you are looking for (such as appreciation) and the feedback you are receiving (such as coaching).

Listening to feedback may not be what we long to hear.  However, with a learning posture, we will not only benefit from feedback, we will develop a strategy to work on those needed growth areas of character and competency.

CP 201

For the past year or so, I have been working through sets of notes from my seminary studies. Little by little, I’ve been storing my ‘hand written’ notes (that dates me!) by typing them up.  It’s been fun trying to decipher what I actually wrote at some points.  However, the greatest benefit has been the opportunity to review ideas and insights that I learned during tholearningse days and seeing their enduring importance to life and ministry.

A good number of us have some years of experience in the ‘work’ of church planting (CP) that God has called us.  It’s been a good while since our ‘learning’ or on the ground education time.  So, perhaps a ‘review’ of what we learned would serve to ‘fan the flame’ again of our passion for CP.  Such a review could serve as a good and needed reminder of those critical ideas and insights that are vital to life and ministry.

Over the next number of posts, I would like to review some ‘notes’ with you.  Let’s just say that we will be typing our notes together from CP 201.  Now as we pull that file (CP 201) from our filing cabinet, and look again at the syllabus of that advanced CP ‘course’, what would we discover was the overall objective?

‘Remembering’ is a biblical principle we find throughout the Scriptures.  “O LORD, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your law.” (Psalm 119:55)  It will be fun to explore what we can learn together as we ‘remember’ what He has taught us.

A community of shared hearts

A colleague of mine sent this quote to me yesterday. It’s taken from the book, Connecting:

The crisis of care in modern culture, especially in the Western church, will not be resolved by training more therapists….It will be worsened by moralists who never reach deeply into the hearts of people in their efforts to impose their standards of behavior on others, even when those standards are biblical.   The greatest need in modern civilization is the development of communities – true communities where the heart of God is home, where the humble and wise learn to shepherd those on the path behind them, where trusting strugglers lock arms with others as together they journey on.

The daily care we need for our souls, for our hearts will be found in community. However, servletthat is where the rub comes in.

Most of us assume that community will be found in our ministry team, and it just may be. However, teams are built to accomplish ministry tasks and are not by nature communities; that is, places where we can share our hearts with others and be shaped by the engagement of others with us.

Most of us assume that community is easily established, and it just could be the case. However, community often requires time spent together, trust, and an atmosphere that is framed by God’s Word. It doesn’t have to be a Bible study, but what happens in our community time together must flow out of God’s principles and God’s ‘one another’ commands.

Most of assume, in our hearts, that we really don’t need community. Warning signs should immediately come up on our life’s dashboard.  Community is essential to growth in the Christian life. As ‘iron sharpens iron’, so we participate in the long-term spiritual growth of one another when we enter into community with a small group of other believers.

Community is about shared hearts; opening up to others so that they may walk with us in our journey; a journey where “trusting strugglers lock arms with others as together they journey on.”