• 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 ‘older’ people?

In a word, what those who are ‘older’ in their journey have to offer is: experience.

I know there are many other things that one can learn from those who are ‘older’ in the faith than we are.  However, ‘older’ people just have more experience than you or I in life and ministry.  Those experiences can be ones filled with joy and fruit as well as those which were more difficult and served as defining moments for that person and his/her journey. mentors

Pulling on someone’s experience does not mean that we will do exactly what they did or that we will make the same choices as they did.  Pulling on someone’s experiences means that we will ‘mine’ their experiences for guiding principles to help us when we have to face those decisions currently in front of us or in the future.

For the past number of years, I have always sought to have a mentor who is just a few years older than myself.  What these mentors offer me is life perspective that helps me as I navigate this phase of my life and ministry. They have never told me what to do.  They have listened and offered their experience (and wisdom) as a help to my decisions and process.

What I have found interesting in recent times is that ‘younger’ people seemingly seek this kind of mentoring relationship with someone ‘older’; while ‘older’ people tend to not allocate significant portions of their time and energy to this kind of facilitation and training of those who may be younger than them.  Interesting in light of these words:

Likewise, urge the younger men (and women) to be self-controlled.  Show yourself (older man or woman) in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech.”  (Titus 2:7-8)

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.

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.