Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's a Jungle Out There

It’s a Jungle Out There

The hit TV show "Monk" follows the detective work of Adrian Monk, a sleuth with OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The show’s theme song, "It’s a Jungle Out There," pictures Monk’s life, and often ours:

"It’s a jungle out there.
Disorder and confusion everywhere.
No one seems to care.
Well I do.
Hey, who’s in charge here?
It’s a jungle out there."

It is a jungle out there. Theologically, we call it a fallen world. In ministry, we face the jungle of criticism, vision killers, finances, sickness, sin, difficult people, time crunches, relationship problems, and more.

Jungle Survival Training

To survive in a jungle, we need OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Devotion.

Jeremiah agrees. In Jeremiah 12:1-4, he laments that he is worn down by opposition and ready to abandon his calling. Ever been there, done that?

In Jeremiah 12:5, God offers his counsel. “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

God asks, “If you become exhausted, get wearied, lose patience, and give up persistence running a 100-meter dash, how in the world are you going to manage it in a marathon?” God confronts, “If you find yourself burned out racing people, how in the world will you manage against a thoroughbred?”

The word “manage” means to accomplish a purpose, to be purpose-driven. The Old Testament idea is to purpose to do God’s will, to live for God, and to align oneself with God’s sovereign purposes in history through ministry.

We can translate “thickets” as “the swelling jungle of the Jordan.” It describes the area of rich, thick vegetation on both sides of the southern sections of the Jordan valley, so called because of high growth or high, flooding waters. The Old Testament uses the word for swelling waves, a cataclysmic earthquake, a rising flood, a raging river, and a thick jungle.

Thus, God is saying, “Jeremiah, if you can’t fulfill your God-given calling in a paradise, how in the world will you fulfil it in the jungle of the Jordan?”

So, what are the easy things that have wearied Jeremiah? “Your brothers, your own family, even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you” (Jeremiah 12:6).

I read this and I realize that God’s view of what’s easy and my view of what’s easy are light years apart.

In response to God, I’m tempted to say, “Um, who said I wanted to compete with horses? And why in the world would I run a marathon in a jungle?”

God is saying to Jeremiah, to me, and to you, “Life is difficult. It’s a jungle out there. Are you going to quit when waves of opposition crash down upon you? Are you going to run away when the lions come out at night?”

God is asking us, “What’s it take to make you quit? To cause you to give up, cry uncle, wave the white flag of surrender? Will you live an alive life of risk, or will you play it safe?”

Vitezslav Gardavsky, Czech philosopher and martyr who died 1978, chose Jeremiah as his man of courage. The terrible threat against life, he said in his book God Is Not Yet Dead, is not death, nor pain, nor any variation on the disasters that we so obsessively try to protect ourselves against with out social systems and our personal strategies. The terrible threat is “that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.”[1]

Though tempted to die prematurely, Jeremiah soldiered on. He was a finisher, not a quitter. He lived courageously, not cautiously. He ran with the horses, not simply with men. He fought on the battlefield, rather than live in the lap of luxury.

How? Persistence. We unearth the Hebrew word for persistence (hashkem) eleven times in Jeremiah. The word describes the activity of people who arise early before the sun and set out with heavy burdens on long journeys. It pictures the tenacity, longsuffering, steadfast endurance of the farmer. It suggests the devotion, dedication, and dogged determination of the Olympic athlete.

What about us? How’s our jungle devotion? How will we persistently hack our way through life’s jungle?

Is the secret to persistency self-effort? Trying harder? Never quitting? Motivational sayings?

The secret to persistency, to OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Devotion—is in God and what God has put in us. Consider God’s personal persistence formula for you:

*Jeremiah 1:4-5—I formed you. You can fulfill a unique purpose.
*Jeremiah 1:6-8—I am with you. You do not need to quit in fear.
*Jeremiah 1:17-19—I made you. You are a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall. A marathon runner. A racer against horses. A jungle slayer. A giant killer.

It is a jungle out there.

God’s created a warrior in there—in you. Soldier on.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983, p. 17.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Who Is Saint Nicholas?

Who Is St. Nicholas?

The origin of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time, the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

He dedicated his life to serving God and was made
Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor
Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled, and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, that there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves, and robbers.

After his release, Nicholas attended the
Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. They also help us to understand something of the “Santa myths.”

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a
dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good
saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him.

So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy.

However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe.

For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early
Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

*Developed from the web site:

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Deep Teaching/Preaching and High School Wrestlers

If we listen to the so-called experts, we are forced to believe that “young people” (Gen Y, Post-Gens, teens/twenty-somethings) want absolutely nothing to do with content. All they want is experience.

I beg to differ.

Talking with my 18 and 21 year-old children, they consistently express the frustration that churches are dropping the content ball. “Dad, it’s all fluff.” “The pastor treats the congregation as if all they want is entertainment.” “Where do you go in Evangelical circles to find deep-thinking preaching and teaching related to life?”

Perhaps you think my kids are oddities.

Well, I also happen to coach public high school wrestlers. They don’t want experiences. They don’t want fluff. They don’t want to “just have fun or be entertained.” They want content--they want to know wrestling moves and do what it takes--the hard stuff, to learn those moves.

Wherever I go, “young people” are begging for content. For depth. For expertise. They are sick and tired of being told that truth does not matter to them.

They want to know, as I want to do, who these so-called experts are talking to.

Truth matters.

Content-starved teens and young adults crave truth-applied-to-life.

Whether it is college students or high school wrestlers, it is about time that we reject the silly notion that working with young people means finding some quickie ice breaker, preparing a five-minute “talk” (or worse yet, refusing to prepare and talking off the cuff).

It’s about time that we do the hard work of relating truth to life, which, of course, means believing that Truth exists and doing the hard work of finding the Truth and sharing the Truth--changeless Truth for changing times. Not fluffy experiences for supposed dim-witted young people.

Sorry, had to get that one off my chest . . .

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Chaotic or Kenotic Christmas?

A Chaotic or Kenotic Christmas?

The “in” Christmas greeting no longer seems to be, “Merry Christmas!” It’s not even, “Seasons’ Greetings!” It is now, “Got your shopping done yet?”

Such is the chaotic nature of how we celebrate Christmas in America.

I am aiming for a less Chaotic Christmas this year and a more Kenotic Christmas.

Kenotic? Yes, my spell-checker is still working. My Greek-speaking readers (no, not those from modern-day Greece, but those who read biblical or Koine Greek) know exactly what I am talking about.

The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word that I am transliterating as kenotic in Philippians 2:6-11 when dramatizing Christ’s incarnation.

“Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing (emptying himself, kenosis), taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name tat is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.”

Having a Kenotic Christmas, according to this passage, means two things.

First, a Kenotic Christmas focuses on thanking God for His gift of His Son and praising Christ for His gift of Himself. It contrasts with the Chaotic Christmas and its focus on what gifts I’m getting and giving.

Second, a Kenotic Christmas focuses on giving the gift of self. “Your attitude,” Paul says in Philippians 2:5, “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” A Chaotic Christmas focuses on giving material gifts. A Kenotic Christmas focuses on giving relational gifts--the gift of being Christlike with and toward people.

While shopping, a Kenotic Christian might give up a place in line to the person behind who seems stressed beyond repair.

While engaged in family time with extended family, a Kenotic Christian might joyfully listen to Uncle Billy’s twelfth retelling of how things were “back in the day.”

This Christmas, let’s focus away from the Chaotic Christmas of giving material gifts (not that that is all bad), and focus on the Kenotic Christmas of giving the gift of sacrificial living that offers others a small mirror of the ultimate Christmas gift, Christ Himself, who emptied Himself that we might experience eternal fullness of joy with the Godhead.

Merry Kenotic Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tank Johnson and Historical Spiritual Care

Tank Johnson and Historical Spiritual Care

Those who read my Blog and my books know my conviction that history is relevant today. Even more, they/you know my conviction that the history of spiritual care is relevant to how we relate to one another today.

Today, I’m going to prove it.

The Bears’ Crisis

Most of my readers will be unaware of the “crisis” with the Chicago Bears’ football team brought on by one of their best players, Tank Johnson. A week ago, police raided Johnson’s home, finding a cache of firearms. Booked and released on bond, he awaits a trial. It is America: Johnson is innocent until proven guilty/convicted in a court of law.

Problems mounted and tragedy ensued two days later when Johnson’s body guard was murdered in a shooting at a local Chicago bar.

You ask, “How in the world does this relate to the history of soul care???”

Keep reading.

Tanking Tank?

The debate in Chicago sports pages now is whether or not Tank should be tanked by the Bears. Some say that the Bears should get Tank some help and get him back on the team. Others say that the Bears are embarrassing (emBEARrassing, perhaps?) themselves by keeping him around.

In fact, ever-bitter and biting Chicago Tribune columnist, Rick Morrissey, lampoons the Bears and questions the integrity of their head coach (Lovie Smith) and general manager (Jerry Angelo). Here’s what Morrissey has to say:

“I’d like to say Tank Johnson should have been sent packing by now, but I’m afraid he would take that to mean he should pack some heat. Why Johnson isn’t already a former Bear is a complete mystery, unless it’s that the organization likes being embarrassed, disrespected or played for a fool by its players. Or unless it’s that coach Lovie Smith has sold his soul for a chance to win a Super Bowl. . . . If Smith is concerned the rest of the team will think he has deserted Johnson if he waives him, then he has no concept of right and wrong. He should be very concerned right now that his team and his city believe he has no spine. If Johnson does play again this season, it will show exactly how far Smith will go to win games. . . . I see an opportunity for Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to show they have trace levels of principles” (Chicago Tribune,,1,3518618.column?coll=cs-bears-headlines accessed December 19, 2006).

Don’t get me started on the arrogance of Morrissey daring to question whether Smith has “trace levels of principles.” And don’t get me started on Morrissey totally misunderstanding the little matter of Unions, Contracts, and Procedures, not to mention that little issue of “innocent until proven guilty.” Because, moving in those directions would move this Blog to the Sports’ page and off the “Truth for Life” Blog page.

How History Replies to Tank’s Story

But do get me started thinking with you about how the history of soul care and spiritual direction might offer some guidance in this debate over how a team (organization, family, friends) might want to respond to an issue like this.

Those who would follow only the soul care (sustaining and healing) side of historic spiritual care, would insists that Tank Johnson should not be tanked. He should be cuddled, coddled, encouraged, grieved with, and rehabilitated.

Those who would follow only the spiritual direction (reconciling and guiding) side of historic spiritual care, would, like Morrissey, call for Tank’s instant removal from the team. He should be confronted, busted, exposed, exhorted, and released.

However, those who follow both the soul care and the spiritual direction side of historic spiritual car, would, like Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo, attempt to sustain, heal, reconcile, and guide Tank Johnson. They, like Tank’s friends on the Bears, are grieving with Johnson over the death of his friend. They are recognizing also that they have a social, family, organizational responsibility to “get Tank help.” They are not “winking at his problems” nor “excusing his sins.” However, they see him as a human being who is messed up and causing messes and needs healing.

At the same time, people like Lovie Smith, Jerry Angelo, and Johnson’s Bears’ teammates, also understand that Johnson needs to be disciplined. And, he has been. He has been deactivated from his livelihood. Further discipline, within the confines of NFL Union contractual obligations, are being discussed and considered. He certainly is being confronted, both publicly and privately. He is also being guided; he is being given the sort of counsel, direction, and advice necessary to clean up his life. He has been told in no uncertain terms what right behavior and wrong behavior is in his specific situation. The law has been laid down; he has been told what is acceptable and unacceptable activity.

I am not an apologist for the Chicago Bears’ organization, nor for Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo. That’s not my point. Nor am I claiming that they are somehow consciously following historic sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Of course not.

I am saying, that we can map their response, and the responses suggested by others, such as the serpent-tongued Morrissey, using the GPS of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.

Every encounter with another human being involves some combination of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. The question always is, “What is the most effective combination and implementation of each in a given situation?”

Yep, Tank Johnson and the Church Fathers do relate. Yep, history is relevant today. Yep, the history of soul care and spiritual direction do help us to make wise people decisions today.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How to Ruin a Good Church, Part II

How to Ruin a Good Church or Para-Church Organization:
Treat It Like a Business

Note: For Part I, See Previous Post

In 2005, Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great, penned a brief but time-worthy monograph Good to Great and the Social Sector. His subtitle should say it all, Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer. However, just in case anyone missed his point, Collins’ first paragraph begins with these prescient words, “We must reject the idea—well-intentioned, but dead wrong—that the primary path to greatness in the social sector is to become ‘more like a business’” (p. 1). (Note: All quotes and references are from, Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sector: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer. A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005.)

Issue Three: First Who—Getting the Right People on the Bus, within the Social Sector Constraints

Collins launches his discussion of issue three with a true story that illustrates that social sector “leadership” is not only about the “head” of the organization. In his illustration, a high school science chair turns his fourteen-person department into a great organization. You “can build a pocket of greatness without executive power, in the middle of an organization” (p. 14).

Collins then repeats his findings from Good to Great. “Do whatever you can to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people into the right seats” (p. 14).

Since it is harder to hire “great” people in the social sector, at least with money as a motivator, and since it is harder to fire mediocre people in the social sector, especially volunteers, early assessment is the key to getting and keeping the right people in the right seats (p. 15).

Who are the “right” people in non-profit organizations? “Those who are productively neurotic, those who are self-motivated and self-disciplined, those who wake up every day, compulsively driven to do the best they can because it is simply part of their DNA” (p. 15).

Taking It Home

So, how do you select and assess people in the social sector? First, tap into their idealistic passions. The “social sectors have one compelling advantage: desperate craving for meaning in our lives” (p. 16). Purity of mission has the power to ignite passion.

Second, make the selection process selective. The “more selective the process, the more attractive a position becomes—even if volunteer or low pay” (p. 16).

Issue Four: The Hedgehog Concept—Rethinking the Economic Engine without a Profit Motive

The essence of the Hedgehog Concept is “to attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exercising the relentless discipline to say, ‘No thank you,’ to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test” (p. 17). In the private sector, this includes three intersecting circles of deep understanding:

1. Knowing what you are deeply passionate about.

2. Knowing what you can be the best in the world at.

3. Knowing what best drives your economic engine.

In the social sector, the third area “shifts from being an economic engine to a resource engine” (p. 18). The question is not, “How much money do we make?” It is, “How can we develop a sustainable resource engine to deliver superior performance relative to our mission?” (p. 18).

The core resource for non-profits is people. People who know what they and the organization are passionate about and who know what they and the organization can be the best in the world at.

Taking It Home

The first key leadership principle is learning how to tie your people (resource) to your passion and your passion to your people. How do we jointly develop a family-sense of shared purpose that everyone is passionate about?

The second key is learning how to say “No thank you” to resources (people) who are not passionate about your passion. In a church, this means taking the risky level five leader step of offending the well-too-do or well-connected in your congregation by not selecting them for leadership positions if they are not passionate about the church’s passion.

Issue Five: Turning the Flywheel—Building Momentum by Building the Brand

In building a great social sector organization, “there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, our research showed that it feels like turning a giant flywheel. Pushing with great effort—days, weeks and months of work, with almost imperceptible progress—you finally get the flywheel to inch forward. But you don’t stop. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you eventually get the flywheel to complete one entire turn” (p. 23).

You keep this up . . . a hundred thousand times. “Then, at some point—breakthrough! Each turn builds upon previous work, compounding your investment of effort. The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum. This is how you build greatness” (p. 23).

By focusing on your passion, you produce results. Those results, in turn, attract resources, which you use to build a stronger organization which delivers even better results, which attracts greater recourses . . . Success breeds support which breeds greater success.

It’s fascinating to see this process at work, for good and for bad, in a local church. Often times, a pastor will serve faithfully for years, leading the cranking of the flywheel. For reasons known only to God, the pastor senses a call elsewhere. The new pastor on the block inherits an already-cranked flywheel. The flywheel takes off. The new pastor claims all the credit, indicating that he is not a true level five leader. Clogs develop in the flywheel, and it grinds to a halt.

Had the new pastor rightfully honored the way the previous pastor had built a strong, self-sustaining organization (one that could thrive without him because he had equipped the people to be leaders), then the flywheel could have continued to fly on into the future. This is the essence of a great church with a great level five leader.

According to Collins, in the social sector, the key driver that keeps the flywheel flying is brand reputation which he defines as tangible results and emotional share of heart. That is, potential supporters believe not only in your mission, “but in your capacity to deliver on that mission” (p. 25).

Taking It Home

Social sector leaders constantly keep the flywheel going by doing good for the world but only good if it fits with the core passion, and refusing to be diverted to other good things (p. 27). Stand firm behind your core passion delivered with uncompromising excellence. Build a pocket of greatness.

Do not let outside or inside problems stop you. Follow the Stockdale Paradox: “You must retain faith that you can prevail to greatness in the end, while retaining the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality. What can you do today to create a pocket of greatness, despite the brutal facts of your environment?” (p. 30).


As Collins concludes, on his back cover, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

How to Ruin a Good Church, Part I

How to Ruin a Good Church or Para-Church Organization:
Treat It Like a Business

In 2005, Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great, penned a brief but time-worthy monograph Good to Great and the Social Sector. His subtitle should say it all, Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer. However, just in case anyone missed his point, Collins’ first paragraph begins with these prescient words, “We must reject the idea—well-intentioned, but dead wrong—that the primary path to greatness in the social sector is to become ‘more like a business’” (p. 1). (Note: All quotes and references are from, Collins, Jim. Good to Great and the Social Sector: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer. A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005.)

What does Collins have in mind with his term “social sector”? He’s picturing churches, para-church organizations, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, seminaries, non-profit organizations, hospitals, social services, charities, the arts—any non-business, any non-profit organization.

When Collins says that social sector organizations should not function like a business, is he saying that they should function in shoddy ways? Absolutely not. “We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness” (p. 2).

What Collins provides in Good to Great and the Social Sector is a research-based framework for greatness that articulates timeless principles that explain why some social sector organizations become great and others remain mediocre. He defines five issues of vital importance to non-profits:

1. Defining “Great”—Calibrating Success without Business Metrics

2. Level 5 Leadership—Getting Things Done within a Diffuse Power Structure

3. First Who—Getting the Right People on the Bus within Social Sector Constraints

4. The Hedgehog Concept—Rethinking the Economic Engine without a Profit Motive

5. Turning the Flywheel—Building Momentum by Building the Brand

Issue One: Defining “Great”—Calibrating Success without Business Metrics

Collins’ first “take-away” states that “In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness” (p. 5). In other words, for a social sector organization, greatness must be assessed relative to mission, not financial returns. For non-profits, the critical question is, “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?” (p. 5).

Of course, in non-profits, great goals can seemingly defy measurement. Still, leaders are to ask a simple question, “What do we mean by great results?” (p. 7). Even when you cannot quantify results (specific measurable numbers) you can ask qualitative (quality-based) questions.

Taking It Home
As I’ve reflected upon Collins’ emphasis, I’ve integrated them with my own MVP Organizational concepts.

M Stands for Mission: The universal calling of the organization.
V Stands for Vision: The unique dream of the organization.
P Stands for Passion: The unmistakable obsession of the organization.

Combining my thoughts and Collins’, I would suggest three types of guiding questions.

Mission Questions: What does superior performance look like in our organization given our mission statement? In what ways are we “delivering” on our mission?

Vision Questions: What distinctive impacts are we making that align with our organizational vision? If we were to disappear, what hole would we leave that could not be easily filled by any other organization on the planet?

Passion Questions: What lasting, enduring statement about the meaning of life are we making that advances our organizational passion? What eternal principle drives us and how are we sharing that truth in love everywhere, all the time?

Questions such as these, altered and specified to “fit” specific non-profits, can become diagnostic indicators. Collins explains, “What matters is not finding the perfect indicator, but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigor” (p. 8).

Relative to these questions, social organizations must make a relentless commitment that drives them to ever higher levels of performance and impact. In this regard, Collins makes a simple but profound point about the difference between goodness and greatness. “No matter how much you have achieved, you will always be merely good relative to what you can become. Greatness is an inherently dynamic process, not an end point. The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide to mediocrity will have already begun” (p. 9).

Issue Two: Level 5 Leadership—Getting Things Done within a Diffuse Power Structure

Social sector leaders do not normally have concentrated executive power. However, they have the power of influence, the power of inclusion, the power of language, the power of shared interests, and the power of coalition.

Thus, executive style leadership is impractical in the social sector (p. 10). This is why many business executives fail when they move into the social sector.

It is also why, as I have witnessed repeatedly as a consultant and a pastor, many “lay leaders” (such as elders, board members, etc.) fail miserably when they attempt to bring their “business savvy” and workplace style of leadership into the local church or para-church.

Collins concludes that there are two types of leadership skill:

1. Business Sector Executive Skill

Here, the leader has enough concentrated power and structural authority to simply make the “right” decisions.

2. Social Sector Legislative Skill

Here, the leader relies upon persuasion, political (people) currency, and shared interests (shared MVP) to create the right conditions for the “right” decisions to happen (p. 11).

Level five leaders are “ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work—not themselves—and they have the will to do whatever it takes (whatever it takes) to make good on that ambition” (p. 11). In the social sector, the Level five leader combines personal humility and professional will to create legitimacy and influence (p. 11).

As an aside, though Collins resists the term “servant leader,” I personally embrace it. Collins fears that the “servant” part of the phrase implies the lack of a strong will (the inability to do whatever it takes to advance the MVP of the organization). Biblically, Christ, Moses, Paul, Joshua, Debra, and all other godly leaders, combined person humility with “ministry will.”

In the social sector, what does level five servant leadership require? It necessitates that the people know the leader’s heart so well that they are convinced that he or she has the greater good of the organization in mind, not him or herself (p. 11). Otherwise, why should those over whom a leader has no direct power give themselves over to a decision that they view as primarily being about and advancing the leader, rather than the organization’s mission, vision, and passion?

Collins brilliantly illustrates the difference between the practice of leadership and the exercise of power. “If I put a loaded gun to your head, I can get you to do things you might not otherwise do, but I’ve not practiced leadership; I’ve exercised power. True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to” (pp. 12-13).

Taking It Home

What are my take-aways from this? Social sector leadership:

1. Requires a shared commitment to the MVP, jointly developed and embraced.

2. Requires the “sharing of life together” so that people see into the leader’s heart enough to confidently entrust themselves to his or her leadership.

3. Requires the wisdom to apply change-management principles. Legislative leaders do not force change. They shepherd people who then voluntarily enact change because they have discerned the wisdom of the change and been given a voice in the change discussion.

Note: See Next Post for Part II

Tuesday, December 12, 2006



Amy Carmichael (1868-1951) ministered as a missionary in India for over fifty years, writing thirty-five books. Perhaps her most "famous" and powerful book was the concise "If." In "If," Amy asks brief questions about our spiritual life and personal relationships, then asks whether our lives are reflecting Calvary love.

In studying "If" for my book on the history of women's soul care, I saw a number of striking examples of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. I share just a few snippets and samplers with you to whet your appetite.

Sustaining Ifs

"If I have not compassion on my fellow-servant, even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If I sympathize weakly with weakness, and say to one who is turning back from the cross, 'Pity thyself'; if I refuse such a one the sympathy that braces and the brave heartening word of comradeship, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

These are powerful challenges. I am asking myself, "Do I sympathize weakly with the weaknesses of others, or do I weep deeply with those who weep?" "Do I empower others to have a brave heart through spiritual comradeship, or do I shrink away from them and their struggles?"

Healing Ifs

"There are times when something comes into our lives which is charged with love in such a way that it seems to open the Eternal to us for a moment, or at least some of the Eternal Things, and the greatest of these is love."

"If the care of a soul (or a community) be entrusted to me, and I consent to subject it to weakening influences, because the voice of the world--my immediate Christian world--fills my ears, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

I am asking myself, "Am I listening to and speaking the voice of the Eternal Word, or am I listening to and speaking the voice of earthly things?"

Reconciling Ifs

"If I am perturbed by the reproach and misundertanding that may follow action taken taken for the good of souls for whom I must give an account; if I cannot commit the matter and go on in peace and in silence, remembering Gethsemane and the cross, then I know noting of Calvary love."

"If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, 'You do not understand,' or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other's highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

I am asking myself, "Do I have the courage to confront my brother or sister in love or am I blunting the truth out of selfish fear and thus refusing to speak the truth in love?"

Guiding Ifs

"If I do not look with eyes of hope on all in whom there is even a faint beginning, as our Lord did, when, just after His disciples had wrangled about which of them should be accounted the greatest, He softened His rebuke with those heart-melting words, 'Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations,' then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If I have not the patience of my Saviour with souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be formed fully in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

I am asking myself, "Do I see the buried image of God in my spiritual friends and patiently fan into flame the gifts of God in them, or do I impatiently believe the worse about my spiritual friends?"

Counsels of Perfection

Some have "accused" Amy Carmichael of being guilty of "counsels of perfection" with these "if/then" statements. That is, they think that she was being too hard on herself and her readers; driving them to perfectionistic Christianity.

I disagree. I would call them counsel of perfections in the same sense that the Apostle Paul used the word "perfection" to mean "the pursuit of Christ-like maturity."

Amy was passionate about pursuing Christ-like maturity personally and about helping those to whom she ministered to do the same. Am I?

If not, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

Monday, December 11, 2006

My Story of Spiritual Friendship

My Story of Spiritual Friendship

In many ways, I entered the ministry of spiritual friendship "kicking and screaming." In fact, I entered the "people-helping" field in that resistive fashion.

Three decades ago, I entered seminary on the typical pastoral track of preaching the Word. Unfortunately, that track often meant, and meant in my case at the time, that I would preach the Word from the pulpit, but then stay comfortably far enough away from using the Word personally with individuals.

Christ's Plans

Christ had other plans. And He does work, as they say, work in mysterious ways. My older brother, an agnostic at the time, learned that I needed money to pay for seminary (what a novel need). He said, "Bob, you're going to be a pastor-person. Pastor-persons work with people. Why not work at the local psychiatric inpatient unit?"

The rest, as they say, is history. But quite a jagged, ragged, criss-crossing history.

Four years of work on a "psych unit" altered the course of my life ministry. However, it took another trail of tears to move me from "psychological people helping" to spiritual friendship.

During the last of my four years in seminary, "counsel wars" erupted between rival factions at the seminary. They debated the proper way to offer Christian counseling (though their debates were far less "Christian" than one might have hoped).

I kept thinking during these debates, battles, skirmishes, and wars, "But no one is talking about what happened for 2,000 years before the advent of the modern Christian counseling movement!" That question, once again, altered the course of my life's ministry.

Spiritual Trek and Sovereign Stumbling

Starting then, and continuing for over a quarter-century (and still continuing), I began examining the history of spiritual friendship. I sovereignly stumbled upon the twin concepts of soul care and spiritual direction and the four core spiritual care concepts identified as "sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding." Once alerted to their existence, I found them everywhere in every "model" of people helping. Together, they offer a "balanced," comprehensive, and comprehendible approach to helping people spiritually.


Working with these historic spiritual friendship motifs, I developed a thread or theme for each. Sustaining: "It's normal to hurt." It highlights biblical care through empathic connection, soul-to-soul, with another image bearer. I picture it as "climbing in the casket," the macabre image reminding me to enter the death-like separation and despairing soul situations of my directees.


The thread of healing calls out: "It's possible to hope." If sustaining climbs in the casket, then healing "celebrates the empty tomb." Healing is scriptural care through encouraging communion, soul-to-soul, with another human being. It works with the Spirit of God to shepherd people to move beyond the suffering to a place of healing hope.


The theme of reconciling expresses the human cry for redemption: "It's horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven." It "speaks the truth in love." Reconciling is spiritual friendship through exposing the awfulness of sin and the separation that it brings, while always remembering that where "sin abounds, grace superabounds."


The motif of guiding, perhaps most often associated in people's minds with spiritual direction, says "It's supernatural to mature." Every directee is ultimately motivated by the desire, the passion, for spiritual growth. What promotes such growth? Not what, but Who?


He supernaturally works within the human soul. The work of the director is summarized by the image of "fanning into flame the gift of God." The directee, already in the process of sustaining, healing, and reconciling, has all that he or she needs to live the spiritual life. Those gifts simply need to be fanned into flame.

Life Changing

The ministry of spiritual friendship has changed my life. This "model" is what God "uses" in my own spiritual walk. Thus, through Him, I am being transformed bit-by-bit, day-by-day as He sustains, heals, reconciles, and guides my faith.

The ministry of spiritual friendship has changed my ministry. This "model" allows me to restfully engage directees confident that there is a God-ordained path to follow. Not a GPS that tells me when and where to turn at every intersection. Rather, a map with compass points. These directional markers of SHRG (sustaining, healing, reconciling, guiding) provide directions for this spiritual director to confidently, calmly head, under the direction of the ultimate Spiritual Director.

What's Your Story?

What's you story of spiritual friendship? Feel free to e-mail me your story (, or to post your story in the comment section below this Blog entry.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Beyond the Suffering

Beyond the Suffering

I'm excited to announce that Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, my latest book, is now available for pre-order on

To secure your copy, go to:

Beyond the Suffering gives voice to the voiceless, allowing the words of past African American Christians to share how they ministered healing hope to one another which allowed them to move beyond suffering to victory in Christ.

Converging Streams, Mighty River

Converging Streams, Mighty River

Biblical counseling today is moving onto the right path. Perhaps a little history lesson (stay with me, history can be fasincation, honest; and I did say little") would be helpful.

One Anothering Spiritual Friendship

Long before our current debates about what makes biblical counseling "biblical," New Testament writers spoke about "one anothering." Every believer was to love one another, encourage one another, confront one another, disciple one another, etc.

Biblical counseling is nothing more, nothing lss, than biblical one anothering.

In the long stream of Church history, for centuries this one anothering became known as spiritual friendship. Not only did pastors and theologians provide spiritual friendship for lay people, but lay people provided it for pastors and theologians.

Various streams of spiritual friendship converged and merged into four mighty tributaries along two prominent rivers (to continued our river analogy):

*Soul Care: Comforting the Suffering

*Sustaining: Empathizing--"It's Normal to Hurt"
*Healing: Encouraging--"It's Possible to Hope"

*Spiritual Direction: Challenging the Sinning

*Reconciling: Exhorting--"It's Horrible to Sin/Wonderful to Be Forgiven"
*Guiding: Empowering--"It's Supernatural to Mature"

Other Flowing Rivers

Throughout Church history, Christians faced and interacted with non-Christian ways of people helping. At times, Christians rejected all such "worldly" ways of helping. At other times, they chose to use the language of the day, while keeping the biblical concepts. At still other times, they decided to merge certain principles from the world with principles from the Word. (This is an all-too-broad summary, but I did say a "little" history lesson.)

Beginning with modern secular psychology, many Christians leaders replaced historic one anothering with secular theory. (This is another very broad generalization. However, unlike the preceding 1850 years, history does demonstrate a major surrender of historic bibical counseling themes from 1850 to 1950, especially among American and European White Protestants.)

The Modern/Post-Modern Thread

Here's where the story gets really fascinating.

In the 1960s and 70s, several biblical counseling movements launched attempts to reclaim the mantle of people helping. Unfortunately, like many such movements that are a reaction against something, they tended to be unbalanced.

One such movement tended to focus predominantly on reconciling and guiding through confronting sin. It was biblical in that exhorting people to escape sin is biblical. However, what it gained on the truth side of one anothering, it lost on the love side.

Another such movement tended to focus on sustaining and healing through comforting the suffering. It was biblical in that encouraging suffering people is biblical. However, what it gained on the love side of one anothering, it lost on the truth side.

Counsel Wars

For the next half century, these two competing models did just that--they competed. Often, they did so with less civility than the on-looking secular world. To this day, these counsel wars continue . . . sadly.

Go to the Internet, read Blogs, type in certain names, and you will find each side claiming that the other side is filled with "psychoheretics."

One side accuses the other side of the psychoheresy of the failure to love the suffering. They call them "relational heretics." They say that their opponents fail the test of orthopraxy (biblical love).

Another side accuses the other side of the psychoheresy of the failure to confront the sinning. They call them "theological heretics." They say that their opponents fail the test of orthodoxy (biblical truth).

Converging Streams

Fortunately, the two side, at times, are merging and bringing the best of both worlds while losing the worse of the world.

Why is this happening now?

Mainly because history is in vogue once again among Christians. Protestant Christians in particular, who for nearly 500-years avoided history and traditon for fear (terror) that it might smack of "Romish Ritual and Human Tradition," are now recognizing that the Holy Spirit has a history.

Returning to the Bible and Church history, Protestants are unearthing the embedded stream of spiritual friendship with its twin tributaries of soul care and spiritual direction.

Once again, one anothering that values truth and love, that focuses on suffering and sinning, and that appreciates sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding is rising to the surface and winning the day.

How incredible!

In other words, biblical one anothering spiritual friendship is flowing again like a mighty river.

So What?

What does this have to do with you? I did, after all, call this Blog a history lesson. A few questions to ponder can help us to apply today's history lesson.

1. As you evaluate current models of people helping, ask, "Does this model exhibit all four streams (sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding)?"

2. As you think about the church where you are a member, ask, "Does it exhibit all four streams? If not, what could I do to help?"

3. As you reflect upon your own way of offering spiritual friendship, ask, "Do I exhibit all four streams?"

4. As you interact about current models of people helping, ask, "Am I interacting in a spirit of speaking the truth in love?"

Let's finally "get it right" by practicing orthopraxy and orthodoxy in our one anothering spiritual friendships by speaking the truth in love through biblical and historical soul care and spiritual direction.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Voice of Healing

A Voice of Healing

Picture the scene. It’s Civil War America. Women have no right to vote. Across the South, Blacks have no rights whatsoever. President Lincoln is assassinated. His widow, Mary Lincoln, is left devastated. To whom does she turn?

To a Black woman.

To Elizabeth Keckley.

In the story of her life Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, Keckley explains, “. . . I have been intimately associated with that lady (Mrs. Lincoln) in the most eventful periods of her life. I have been her confidante . . .”[1]

Given the inauspicious beginnings of Keckley’s life story, her spiritual friendship with Mary Lincoln is staggering. “My life has been an eventful one. I was born a slave—was the child of slave parents—therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action.”[2]

How in the world did a Black woman of that cultural era become confidante to the slain President’s wife? Keckley understood how. “God rules the universe.”[3]

All Silver in Heaven

Like her Savior, Keckley was a woman of sorrow acquainted with grief, and thus able to bring sustaining and healing spiritual care to Mrs. Lincoln. Though enslaved, her first few years were at least spent in the love of her intact family. However, soon her father was sold to another slaver. As Keckley picturesquely recalls it:

“But the golden dream faded all too soon. . . . The announcement fell upon the little circle in that rude log cabin like a thunderbolt. I can remember the scene as if it were but yesterday;—how my father cried out against the cruel separation; his last kiss; his wild straining of my mother to his bosom; the solemn prayer to Heaven; the tears and sobs—the fearful anguish of broken hearts. The last kiss, the last goodbye; and he, my father, was gone, gone forever. . . . The shadow eclipsed the sunshine, and love brought despair. The parting was eternal. The cloud had no silver lining, but I trust that it will be all silver in heaven.”

Years later, through a series of sovereign appointments, Elizabeth Keckley finds herself in the role of dressmaker for the President’s wife. More than that, she finds herself in the role as the President’s wife sacred friend.

A Tornado of Sorrow

Upon the announcement of the President’s death, Mrs. Lincoln was inconsolable. Mrs. Secretary Wells asked Mrs. Lincoln who could comfort her. “Is there no one, Mrs. Lincoln, that you desire to have with you in this terrible affliction?”

Mrs. Lincoln responded, “Yes, send for Elizabeth Keckley. I want her just as soon as she can be brought here.”

Bringing her in, Mrs. Wells excused herself and Keckley was left alone with Mrs. Lincoln. “She was nearly exhausted with grief, and when she became a little quiet, I asked and received permission to go into the Guests’ Room, where the body of the President lay in state.”[6]

Returning to Mrs. Lincoln’s room, Keckley reports:

“I found her in a paroxysm of grief. Robert was bending over his mother with tender affection, and little Tad was crouched at the foot of the bed with a world of agony in his young face. I shall never forget the scene—the wails of a broken heart, the unearthly shrieks, the terrible convulsions, the wild, tempestuous outbursts of grief over the soul.”

How did Keckley respond? “I bathed Mrs. Lincoln’s head with cold water, and soothed the terrible tornado as best I could. Tad’s grief at his father’s death was as great as the grief of his mother, but her terrible outbursts awed the boy into silence.”

Beyond the Dark, Mysterious Shadows of Death

In those days, of all people, a formerly enslaved Black woman was the one human being on the face of the earth who could comfort the President’s widow! And how? With her empathy. With her silence. With her physical presence. With her loving companionship.

“Every room in the White House was darkened, and every one spoke in subdued tones, and moved about with muffled tread. The very atmosphere breathed of the great sorrow which weighed heavily upon each heart. Mrs. Lincoln never left her room. She denied admittance to almost every one, and I was her only companion, except her children, in the days of her great sorrow.”[9]

Mrs. Lincoln’s testimony says it all. “Lizabeth, you are my best and kindest friend, and I love you as my best friend.”[10]

Elizabeth Keckley not only understood how to offer sustaining comfort. She also recognized how to impart healing hope. “At the grave, at least, we should be permitted to lay our burden down, that a new world, a world of brightness, may open to us. The light that is denied us here should grow into a flood of effulgence beyond the dark, mysterious shadows of death.”[11]

The Voice of the Voiceless

All of us, even the “best trained,” at times feel speechless when face-to-face with a grieving family member. But have we an excuse to remain voiceless?

If a Black woman in Civil War America—the epitome of voicelessness—can soothe the tumult of the President’s widow, can we not find our voice in the Wonderful Counselor? A voice that speaks out of our own melting grief, a voice that speaks with soothing kindness, a voice that speaks of heavenly hope. A courageous voice from a courageous soul set free by the One who calls Himself the Word.

[1]Keckley, Elizabeth. Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Reprinted by the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. xiv.
[2]Ibid., p. 17.
[3]Ibid., p. xii.
[4]Ibid., pp. 22-24.
[5]Ibid., p. 189.
[7]Ibid., pp. 191-192.
[9]Ibid., pp. 192-193.
[10]Ibid., p. 210.
[11]Ibid., p. 24.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What's the Connection?

What’s the Connection?
The Link between Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation

Many of you know that I am part of a new "launch" of the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network (BCSFN) for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). With the launch of the BCSFN, an obvious, fair, and logical question is, “Why this ‘combination’? What’s the connection between biblical counseling and spiritual formation?”

Not only is it a logical question; it is a theological question. The theological answers to the question of the linkage between counseling and formation are many. I’ll offer two.

First, the Bible clearly links spiritual ministry and spiritual maturity. In other words, we can’t even think about offering spiritual help to others if we are un-formed spiritually. Paul puts it plainly and bluntly: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1).

So, one of our main goals in the BCSFN is to encourage care-givers in their own spiritual formation.

Second, the Bible clearly describes spiritual formation as the ultimate goal of all ministry. Turning again to the Apostle Paul, we read, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

Paul’s purpose-driven life focused on one magnificent obsession: participating with God in the transformation of character. What’s the point of biblical counseling? Helping others to become more and more like the Wonderful Counselor!

So, another of our main goals in the BCSFN to equip care-givers in their ministry to more effectively form Christ in the lives of their counselees, parishioners, and spiritual friends.

So, what’s the connection between biblical counseling and spiritual formation? We’ll let Paul speak for us one final time. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).