Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two Keys to Unlocking the Door to Success

Two Keys to Unlocking the Door to Success:
Community and Commitment

In Outliers, Gladwell makes two important points about success.


First, success in any endeavor is not simply about the individual, but about the individual’s community of support: family, background, history, upbringing, networks, friends, connections, co-workers.

We may say, “Duh!” However, most books on “success” look almost entirely at the individual attributes and neglect the societal and communal. This is a “sign of the times” with our dis-connected society.

The take away: Whether online or in the “real world,” social networking is vital for “success.” Or, put another way, “Synergy is energy” as Pam Perry might say. Or, as Goleman would say, “It takes emotional intelligence.” That is, we need to relate well, to care, to connect.


Second, the communal does not obliterate the individual. A second not-so-secret secret to success is the “10,000 Hour Principle.” Successful people, whether athletes, authors, or business persons, don't achieve success until they have put in at least 10,000 hours of work. That means 4 hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year, for ten years.

I authored my first book in 2004. That’s not yet five years ago. Without a “big name” background behind it, I have worked hard for five years. I’ve made some progress. I now have three published books with the fourth on the way. I edit two Journals, etc. But, I still have five years to go! I am only half way toward my ten years. And, have I put in a half day’s work per day the last five years on writing and promoting? No.

The take away: to the turtle goes the victory. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon. At least a ten year marathon to “success” in any endeavor. Are we staying at “it” long enough? Do we endure the “dips” and plow through the mounds? Or, do we quit at the five-year mark?


1. Are we connecting? It Does Take a Village!

2. Are we committed? It’s a 10,000 Hour Marathon!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Backside of God

The “Backside” of God (Exodus 33:18-34:9)

In Exodus 33:18-34:9, God shows Moses His “backside.” While people often debate the meaning of this, the text makes it clear. “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

The back side of God is His goodness.

Biblical theologian Bob Deffinbaugh notes that: “Here, the emphasis of ‘goodness’ falls not on the things which God gives, but on the goodness and generosity of God as the giver of good things.”

His interpretation is reminiscent of Hebrews 11:6 where we are told that when we come to God we must believe that He is, and that He is a generous Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Here’s my questions for us. It would be interesting, informative, and encouraging to share responses with one another.

1. When have you seen the backside of God?

2. On this Thanksgiving weekend, do we have spiritual eyes to detect the backside of God—His goodness?

3. Do we have faith eyes to see the generous, gracious goodness of God?

4. How is God showing you His goodness these days?

5. What signs of God’s goodness is He sending into your life?

6. Are we seeking only the good gifts from God, or are we seeking to know the good God?

7. How is God making you aware of how good He is?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bitter Waters and the God of All Comfort

The Bitter Waters and the God of All Comfort

AP science writer, Randolph E. Schmid reported on November 25, 2008, that Marine archaeologists had found the remains of a slave ship wrecked off the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1841, an accident that set free the ancestors of many current residents of those islands. Some 192 Africans survived the sinking of the Spanish ship Trouvadore off the British-ruled islands, where the slave trade was banned.

This report reminds us that millions of free Africans experienced the horrible progression from freedom, to capture, to baracoon, to inhumane inspection, and then to the holds of the slave ships. Historians have variously labeled their months-long crossing of the Atlantic as “the trans-Atlantic passage,” “the Middle Passage,” “the slave holds,” “the bitter waters,” and “rupture.”

Barbara Holmes, in Joy Unspeakable, explains the terminology while introducing the tragedy. “Although the event is often referred to as the Middle Passage, this label fails to depict the stark realities of a slave ship. Captured Africans were spooned together lying on their sides in ships that pitched with every wave. Together they wept and moaned in a forced community that cut across tribal and cultural lines.”

Creative Communal Expression of the Inexpressible: The Moan

The air was thick with stench and panic as ships like the Trouvadore departed the Slave Coast laden with their human cargo. The gruesomeness of their voyage of terror was akin to something out of a horror movie.

But how could they articulate such suffocating physical suffering and psychological agony? And if articulated, would they be understood since the slavers pitilessly ignored all tribal associations? Groans that could not be uttered and words that could not be communicated became the primal sustaining language of known as the moan.

As the ships lurched back and forth with each wave, each soul rocked and swayed with despondency. Out of their despair “the moan became the first vocalization of a new spiritual vocabulary—terrible and wonderful, it was a cry, a critique, a prayer, a hymn, a sermon, all at once”

As such, it was desperately defiant. Seemingly destitute of all power, the sufferers grasped hold of the universe, wordlessly shouting, “This is not the way it was meant to be!” The pain of enslavement dared them to succumb—to give up hope by losing their voice. In the moan, they reclaimed their voice, their inner personhood, their God-given right to express themselves.

Following the North Star: Portals of Hope

We follow the North Star guidance of the enslaved Africans’ responses to capture and rupture by reminding ourselves and our spiritual friends that we are never alone. Most of us would consider ourselves condemned prisoners in solitary confinement if we were stowed in the suffocating hold of a slave ship with little air, no portals, and no access to the outside world. Our African forebears teach us that there are always three open portals providing a way of internal release from captivity.

Portal one is God—the God of all portals, the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our tribulations. Kidnapped from their homes and hijacked across the world, enslaved Africans encountered a wilderness experience that raised ultimate questions and brought them to a breaking point. On the brink between sanity and insanity, many encountered God—their good God who hears, sees, and cares. Theirs was a dual journey—away from their human home to their heavenly Home. As they journeyed, the chains still clanked, yet their hearts still hummed, or at least moaned.

Portal two is people—when the God of all comfort comforts us, he does so in order that we can comfort one another with the comfort that we receive from him. Individually and corporately they tapped into the Holy Spirit at every turn. In bound community, they shared with one another the Spirit of God within them, their hope of glory. The collective gathering of the power of his presence in their inner being provided life-sustaining strength in the midst of death-bidding despair. The all-surpassing power of God (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) shared among these captured souls transformed them into “Jesus with skin on.”

Portal three is self—not the self of self-sufficiency, but the self created in the image of God and infused with the Spirit of God. Ramming into the breakers of life, these enslaved men and women could break or conclude that there is no need to break. At their breaking point, those slaves who entrusted themselves to God discovered a bottomless resourcefulness that enabled them to transform physical bondage into spiritual freedom.
[5] Through God, they absorbed the ache of life without abandoning the ship of hope. Even while stowed like animals below deck, they saw the shining North Star of God with upturned eyes of faith looking out spiritual portals.

[1]Excerpted from, Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering, Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Baker, 2007.
[2]Holmes, Joy Unspeakable, pp. 69-70.
[3]Holmes, pp. 72-74.
[4]Noel, “Call and Response,” p. 72.
[5]Thurman, Deep River, p. 39.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Heroes of Black Church History: A Christmas Present


I’d like to suggest a Christmas present that costs as little as one fast-food meal, but fills a hungry soul for a lifetime. Give the gift of life lessons from heroes of Black Church history.

Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction is on sale for 50% off (just $7.50 plus S/H). Purchase a copy today at:

For your pastor, deacon, elder, SS teacher, parishioner, father, mother, son, daughter, sibling, co-worker, friend, or neighbor, give the empowering gift of stirring narratives that portray victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. As Pastor Tony Evans declares, “After you engage Beyond the Suffering, you will have a deeper understanding of how God forged character in people through their suffering and be able to apply many valuable insights to your personal life and future ministry. The captivating true stories and first-hand narratives have a therapeutic and healing quality.

Order before December 20, 2008, and I will email you for free my forty-page Guide to African American Resources which reviews over 125 books on African American history, life, and ministry (normally $10.00).

Order in Bulk for Your Sunday School Class, Small Group Ministry,
Church Library, Para-Church Ministry

Many churches are now using Beyond the Suffering as a ten-to-thirteen week small group study, or Sunday School class for pre-teens, teens, and adults. With the built-in, engaging, thought-provoking discussion guide, Beyond the Suffering is a one-of-kind tool for encouraging and equipping your congregation. As Donna Eggett of Christian Book Previews predicts, “This may well be the book of the year! This book will make an excellent preparation for our youth and adults as they head into a dangerous future.”

Order ten or more copies before December 20, 2008 (for your Sunday School class, small group ministry, church library, ministry resource room, para-church ministry, future gift-giving, etc.), and I will email you for free ten PowerPoint presentations on Beyond the Suffering with hundreds of slides and 1,000s of images. With the book, the built-in discussion guide, and the PowerPoint presentations, you will have everything you need right at your fingertips to teach your people in Sunday School class and to facilitate your people in small group ministries about the heroes of Black Church history. Order now at:

Merry Christmas!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Meet Logan, The Sky Angel Cowboy


Meet Logan, the sky angel cowboy. He tells us about God's love for His Son and God's love for us.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

A New Friend, An Old Issue, A Fresh Perspective

A New Friend, An Old Issue, A Fresh Perspective

Yesterday, as I was putting the finishing touches on my updated Mission, Vision, Passion, Commission (MVP-C) Statement for RPM Ministries, the phone rang.

Thirty minutes later I had a new friend. During our talk, my new friend and I commiserated over the state of current Biblical/Christian counseling. Like me, my new friend bemoaned the fact that extremism seems to rule the day.

Either we have people claiming to be Christian counselors who do not build their models of counseling on the Bible, or people claiming to be Biblical counselors who do not relate to those who disagree with them in a Christlike way.

Hmm . . . Christian counselors who are not so very Biblical. And Biblical counselors who are not so very Christian.

Disappointing indeed.

It's an old issue. Sadly, few seem to be able to combine truth and love in Biblical/Christian counseling.

The ironic part? This issue of comprehensive truth and love was exactly what my updated RPM Ministries MVP-C Statement highlights.

In summary:

RPM Ministries exists to change lives with Christ's changeless truth through writing, speaking, and consulting focused on comprehensive, compassionate, culturally-informed Biblical/Christian counseling and spiritual formation.

It's not rocket science. It shouldn't be this hard. It shouldn't be so rare.

My new friend and I long for the day when Biblical/Christian counseling "integrates" truth and love.

My guess is, so do you.

My suspicion is, many people are growing weary of these "counseling wars."

My hunch is, many of us want to find a community of Christian/Biblical counselors who love the Word of God and who love the people of God.

I'd be glad to hear from others like my new friend.

In fact, I'm sure there are many who would like to hear from each other. Perhaps we could build a community of loving/truthing Christian/Biblical counselors.

Let's share our stories. Let's share our horror stories of not feeling like we fit anywhere because we refuse to join one "camp" or another. And then let's share our encouraging stories of our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, culturally-informed Christian/Biblical counseling.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Words Matter

Words Matter

In the November 19, 2008 issue of The USA Today, political analyst Sandy Grady rightly praises President-elect Barack Obama for his eloquence ("His Words Will Matter").

Grady aptly notes about Obama's speeches, "They always have rhythm, repetition, alliteration, balance. They flow with a narrative, his story meshing into America's story" (p. 13A).

Anyone familiar with historic and current African American preaching (see my work Beyond the Suffering: Embracing African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction) knows that Obama's style reflects the best of a long tradition.

Amazingly, in this day of the tele-prompter and of the speech-writer, Obama writes his own speeches.

Some of his more powerful, poetic words include:

July 27, 2004, Democratic National Convention Speech: "There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."

January 8, 2008, Manchester, NH, after Hillary Clinton defeated him in the primary: "Yes we can!"

March 18, 2008, Philadelphia, answering the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy: "It is a story that has seared my genetic makeup, the idea that this nation is more than a sum of its parts, that out of many, we are truly one."

November 4, 2008, Grant Park, Chicago: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible . . . tonight is your answer."

Words matter.

Whether or not one agrees with President-elect Barack Obama on each and every issue, one has to respect his stirring use of words.

And we all can learn from him.

1. Write and speak with passion from the heart. Tell a story that means the world to you and it will mean the world to the world.

2. Write and speak your own story and style. Write with originality and freshness. Sure, research the works and words of others. But don't mimic. Find and use your own voice.

3. Write and speak "poetically" even if writing non-fiction prose. For example, in my theology of Christian counseling text book (Soul Physicians) I use the literary style of "theo-drama" to tell the awesome story of God's work in history. Theology should never be dry-as-dust! It is God's story!

4. Write and speak in narrative. Life is a story. We all live in story, in narrative. Craft a compelling depiction of the main characters, their setting, their aspirations, even in non-fiction. For instance, in Beyond the Suffering we did not simply tell historical facts. We placed African American Christians in their historical setting, drawing out and describing their personal passions and their life-changing interactions.

5. Write and speak with relevance. Whatever "truth" you have to tell, relate truth to life. In our book on the history of women's soul care (Sacred Friendships), my co-author and I did not simply write a history text. We paused at each step along the journey to ask the "So what?" question. "So what difference does the life of this godly woman make for us today?

Words matter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Book of the Year

"This may well be the book of the year!"

Christian Book Previews Review of Beyond the Suffering

"This may well be the book of the year! Engrossing, important, well researched, deeply biblical - what more can I say? Presenting imperative Christian nurturing, vividly illustrated by significant, scripturally-based, lifesaving lessons gleaned from some of our most downtrodden Americans, Beyond the Suffering provides essential truths for all Americans, no matter race, creed, or history. Let’s extend the arena - the rest of the world will profit from this heart/mind/spirit catching book.

Written for the express purpose of showing how Christ snatches triumphs from the jaws of defeat and transforming victims into victors, Beyond the Suffering is based on documents, biographies, and quotations from American slaves who learned that when absolutely everything else fails Christ is present, real, loving, in control. The format revolves around ministries which help hurting and hardened people. The examples used are shocking, horrifying, uplifting, always pointing to Christ. A term found often throughout these pages is ‘Soul Physician’ - one who, from the depth of their own terrible yet wondrous experiences, helps others to reach out of their own particular pit toward the healing Lord. These slave Soul Physicians were lay-people whom our Lord had touched; a concept which today’s world desperately needs. Beyond the Suffering will not only heal and prepare us to face life, it will equip us to be Soul Physicians. Many materials in this book encourage the reader towards victory. The questions which summarize each chapter are thought- and action-provoking.

The history is well-researched; ideas are amply, tellingly illustrated. No punches are pulled. The authors tell about slavery exactly as it was, and about Christ and His ministry exactly like it is. Beyond the Suffering is not a book for those who like their American comfort and traditional misbeliefs. Be prepared to have growing pains and spiritual toothaches as you read. This book is a must for all Christians. It will make an excellent preparation for our youth as they head into a dangerous future."
– Donna Eggett,

RPM Ministries: Comprehensive, Compassionate Biblical Counseling

Monday, November 17, 2008

Race, Religion, and Politics

Race, Religion, and Politics

Author Mark Noll is one of the preeminent historians of religion in American history. That designation is sure to grow with his timely release of “God and Race in American Politics: A Short History.”

Could there possibly be a better time for the release of this work then weeks before our nation elected its first African American President? Race, religion, and politics in American history have always alternated between great triumphs and shameful failure. Noll outlines this contradictory history and provides theological and cultural insights into the reasons.

As the sub-title suggests, Noll writes a short history (200 pages). That is not to be confused with an incomplete history. Noll moves through the issues of race, religion, and politics from the origins of American slavery, to the start of the Black Church Movement, to the Jim Crow years, through the Civil Rights years, and onto the present. In doing so, he provides a panoramic view of what he accurately describes as “spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression.” And he does so not in a dry-as-dust historical style, but in an engaging, appealing, captivating narrative style. Surely this is one of the most important books on religion, race, and politics written to date.

Reviewer: Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Where Are All the Brothers?

In Defense of Christ and His Church
A Review of Eric Redmond's
"Where Are All the Brothers?"

Pastor Eric C. Redmond writes with a burning passion for revitalization in the African American church. For Pastor Redmond, such revival begins with theology. While that word (theology) may terrify some, Pastor Redmond realizes how relevant theology is to everyday life.

In fact, "Where Are All the Brothers?" is "theology in disguise." It is a practical manual written with wit and wisdom in particular for the black male who has a litany of reasons for being unchurched. Chapter by chapter in bite-size chunks, Pastor Redmond helps men to digest biblical and practical answers to questions they have about the value of Christianity and the Church. He challenges men to give him ten minutes for nine days. His prayer is that his male readers will be transformed by truth and in turn African American churches will experience a reformation as an army of African American men march back into leadership in church and society.

In many ways, Pastor Redmond writes like the great African American pastors of the past--Rev. Richard Allen, Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, Pastor Peter Randolph, Pastor Lemeul Haynes, and so many other stalwarts of the faith. They share in common the courage of their conviction that God's truth sets men free.

Day by day, Redmond disabuses men of lies about Christ, Christianity, and the church. Day one: addressing hypocrites in the church. Day two: explaining the inspiration of Scripture. Day three: interacting about the role of men and women in the church. Day four: exploring the preacher's calling. Day five: contrasting what Islam claims to offer Black men and what Christ offers all men. Day six: discussing the church and money. Day seven: defending organized religion. Day eight: honoring the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Day nine: outlining eight marks of a healthy church. What we have here is the ability to communicate.

Pastor Eric Redmond has penned an "ecclesiology for everyday life" (a practical defense of the relevance of the church--especially for the black male who has his doubts). But this book is not only for the black brother. It is for all brothers and sisters. And it is not only for those who are not attending church. It will strengthen the faith and resolve of church members also. "Where Are All the Brothers?" is enticing, educating, equipping, and empowering reading for all believers.

Reviewer: Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heroes in Black Church History


RPM Ministries is please to announce the launch of another new, power-packed, one-day seminar: Heroes in Black Church History: Learning Life Lessons from the Legacy of African American Christians.

In just one day, your church or para-church group will be introduced to over 250 years of amazing African American men and women of faith.

All of it condensed into a creative, engaging, empowering summary contained in 15 pages of notes, over 100 PowerPoint slides, and an interactive experience.

Your people will leave motivated to develop multi-cultural relationships and equipped to sustain, heal, reconcile, and guide one another by following the legacy of past African American Believers.

If you are interested in creating a competent, caring, multi-cultural community in your congregation, contact me for more information.


PS: Here's a summary of the goals and an outline of the day.

Christians of All Races Will:

*Be empowered by the founding fathers of the African American church about how to be a godly male leader.

*Be equipped by the heroic sisters of the spirit of the African American church to be a powerful female spiritual friend.
*Be enriched by past African American husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers concerning how to nurture and enjoy godly living in the home.
*Be enlightened to apply proven ways to help people find healing hope in the midst of deep pain by identifying with past African American believers.
*Be enabled to minister more effectively in cross-cultural settings by uncovering the buried treasure of wisdom contained in the legacy of African American soul care and spiritual direction.
*Be encouraged to skillfully practice the historic soul care arts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.
*Be enthused to build healing communities where Christians find courage and comfort in God and each other.


8:00-8:45 Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:45-8:55 Worship
8:55-9:00 Greeting and Prayer
9:00-10:30 Session One: So Great a Cloud of Witnesses: Following the

Ancient Paths
10:30-10:45 Break
10:45-12:00 Session Two: Watered with Our Tears: Communal Comfort

and Family Faithfulness
12:00-1:00 Lunch Provided
1:00-1:10 Worship
1:10-2:30 Session Three: The Old Ship of Zion: Uniting in Christ
2:30-2:45 Break
2:45-4:00 Session Four: This Far by Faith: Embracing the Lost

Spiritual Legacy
4:00 Closing Benediction
4:00-4:30 Optional Book Signing

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Changing Lives Seminar


RPM Ministries is please to announce the launch of a new, power-packed, one-day seminar: Changing Lives.

In just one day, your church or para-church group will be introduced to all the concepts in my books Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends!

That's right. Almost 1,000 pages condensed into a creative, engaging, empowering summary contained in 15 pages of notes, nearly 100 PowerPoint slides, and an interactive experience.

Your people will leave motivated to become biblical counselors, equipped to be spiritual friends, and enlightened to be soul physicians.

If you are interested in creating a competent caring community in your congregation, contact me for more information.



Here's an outline of the day.

RPM Ministries Changing Lives Seminar

How to Change Lives with Christ’s Changeless Truth:
Using the Bible Accurately and Powerfully in Biblical Counseling
and Spiritual Formation

Changing Lives Morning Session (8:30-12:00)

How to Build a Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction:
Making Biblical Counseling Truly Biblical

Changing Lives Morning Session Abstract

Everyone talks about “biblical counseling,” but how do we define and practice it? Learn how to use God’s Word and Church history to develop a comprehensive biblical model of counseling that truly values the sufficiency, supremacy, authority, profundity, and relevancy of Scripture to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth.

Changing Lives Morning Session Learning Objectives:

Upon successful completion of this Changing Lives session,
believers will be able to:

1.) Examine the spiritual anatomy of the soul by developing a biblical counseling model of people from the doctrine of Creation.
2.) Diagnose the fallen condition of the soul by developing a biblical counseling model of problems from the doctrine of the Fall.
3.) Prescribe God’s cure for the soul by developing a biblical counseling model of solutions from the doctrine of Redemption.

Changing Lives Afternoon Session (1:00-4:30)

How to Practice the Arts of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction:
Following the Ancient Paths of Biblical Counseling

Changing Lives Afternoon Session Abstract

In this session, we will probe four compass points on the intersection between biblical counseling and spiritual formation. As pastors and lay spiritual friends, we will learn and practice how to offer the historic soul care and spiritual direction arts of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth.

Changing Lives Afternoon Session Learning Objectives:

¨ Upon successful completion of this Changing Lives session, the participants will be able to:

1.) Read God’s biblical and historical compass to discern the four compass points of S-H-R-G: sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.
2.) Implement biblical and historical soul care through the practice of the relational competencies of sustaining and healing.
3.) Implement biblical and historical spiritual direction through the practice of the relational competencies of reconciling and guiding.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

If You Want a Meaningful Job and a Purposeful Life, Then Minister

If You Want a Meaningful Job and a Purposeful Life, Then Minister

Where do America’s most satisfied workers work, and in what jobs do we find the people with the highest general happiness? We no longer have to guess, because a University of Chicago Study by Tom W. Smith (Job Satisfaction in the United States)[1] provides the answers.

And the Study Asked

Smith asked 1000s of people in 100s of occupations two questions.

1. Job Satisfaction:

On the whole, how satisfied are you with the work you do—would you say you are very satisfied, moderately satisfied, a little dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied?

2. General Happiness:

Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?

And the Survey Says

Only one occupation ranked in the top twelve in both questions.

The clergy.

That’s right. Those whose work is self-defined as “conducting religious worship and performing spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination” reported very high job satisfaction and being very happy with life.

In fact, of over 198 occupations, the clergy ranked number one—highest—in both categories! Other than members of the clergy, only firefighters (3rd and 2nd) and special education teachers (9th and 5th) scored in the top dozen in each category.

In job satisfaction, 87.2% of clergy reported they were very satisfied with the work they do. Next in order were physical therapists, firefighters, educational administrators, painters and sculptors, teachers, authors, psychologists, special education teachers, operating engineers, office supervisors, and security and financial services salespersons.

In general happiness, 67.2% of the clergy reported that overall, they were very happy with life. Next in order were firefighters, transportation ticket and reservation agents, architects, special education teachers, actors and directors, science technicians, mechanics and repairers, industrial engineers, airline pilots and navigators, hardware and building supplies salespersons, and housekeepers and butlers.

The Contentment Source

So what is it about the ministry that leads to very high job satisfaction and very high general life happiness? The Rev. Dr. Rick Wright answered that question for Kristina Cowan, of, saying he enjoys helping people and being creative. “With ministry, I get to tie in my fundamental beliefs about God and life with what I do all day. So I get to work with people and assist them. And in ordained ministry I think it’s a bit unique that people will open up to you because you are a priest/pastor and share who they really are inside.”

Frankly, this should come as no surprise or shock for students of the Bible. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul described his delight in ministry and his contentment as a minister. “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

The Creator of the Universe built into the very fabric of our being a core other-centeredness. Only when we are ministering for others will we find life’s meaning for ourselves. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).

[1]Tom W. Smith, Job Satisfaction in the United States, NORC/University of Chicago, April, 2007.
[2]Kristina Cowan, “Where Do America's Happiest People Work?,”, November 11, 2008.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The First African American Family: Then and Now

The First African American Family: Then and Now

Surfing the Internet, a prominent message one reads from African Americans about the election of Barack Obama relates to the joy many have at the thought of a Black family in the White House. Barack and Michelle Obama, along with their children Malia (10) and Sasha (7), will be an example of family life to a nation and to the world.

The African American Family Now

For instance, the November 5, 2008 issue of the New York Times notes, “As the first African Americans in the role, they will be a living tableau of racial progress, and friends say they are acutely aware that everything they say and do—the way they dress, where
Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, go to school, even what kind of puppy they adopt—will brim with symbolic value.

“‘Here’s an intact black family, a happy family, with beautiful kids and a loving extended family,’” Ms. Williams (a family friend) said, “’and they happen to live in the executive mansion.’”

The African American Family Then: Pulling the Rope in Unison

Unfortunately, it has become something of a cliché to imagine that Black families today find it difficult to experience stability because of a long history of instability caused by slavery and racism. While not at all minimizing the obstacles that enslaved African American families have faced, history paints a truer and more optimistic picture of their response. Though everything fought against them, enslaved African Americans battled gallantly to maintain family cohesion—a cohesion that provided a sturdy platform from which to handle life courageously.

In my book, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction,
[2] I offer many examples of such family cohesion. For example, Jennie Hill was born and enslaved in 1837 in Missouri. Florence Patton interviewed the ninety-six-year-old Hill in 1933. During her interview, Hill adamantly resisted the notion that enslaved families lacked closeness. “Some people think that the slaves had no feeling—that they bore their children as animals bear their young and that there was no heartbreak when the children were torn from their parents or the mother taken from her brood to toil for a master in another state. But that isn’t so. The slaves loved their families even as the Negroes love their own today. . .”[3]

Communicating the message of African American family love was so important to Reverend Thomas Jones that he bore witness to it on the very first page of his narrative. “I can testify, from my own painful experience, to the deep and fond affection which the slave cherishes in his heart for his home and its dear ones. We have no other tie to link us to the human family, but our fervent love for those who are with us and of us in relations of sympathy and devotedness, in wrongs and wretchedness.”

Satan longs to blind African Americans to their legacy of family love. He wants all of us to believe that hardships make it too hard to love. Hill’s family, Jones’ family, and millions like them, belie that lie.

Enslaved African American couples sustained strong marital relationships. Venture Smith was born in Dukandarra, in Guinea, about 1729. Kidnapped at age eight, Robertson Mumford purchased him a year later. After living with Mumford for thirteen years, Venture married Meg at age twenty-two. They remained together for over forty-seven years, through many trials and tribulations, until parted by death.

Venture’s narrative contains an explanation for their marital faithfulness. On the occasion of their marriage, Venture threw a rope over his cabin and asked his wife to go to the opposite side and pull on the rope hanging there while he remained and pulled on his end. After they both had tugged at it awhile in vain, he called her to his side of the cabin and by their united effort they drew the rope to themselves with ease. He then explained the object lesson to his young bride. “If we pull in life against each other we shall fail, but if we pull together we shall succeed.”

Premarital couples, newlyweds, and seasoned married spouses would all do well to heed Venture’s guiding wisdom. And all families will be watching to learn what guiding wisdom they can glean from the example of the Obama family—the First Family.

[1]Jodi Kantor, New York Times, November 5, 2008, Online Edition.
[2]Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering, Baker, 2007.
[3]Blassingame, Slave Testimony, p. 593.
[4]Andrews, p. 211.
[5]Bontemps, p. 30.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Future of Biblical Counseling, Part 13

The Future of Biblical Counseling
Dreaming a Dozen Dreams

Part 13: Dream Number Twelve
Biblical Counseling Will Be Multi-cultural

Welcome to the final post in a multi-part Blog on The Future of Biblical Counseling. We need clarity on the issue of what makes biblical counseling biblical. I invite you to join the conversation.

Dream Number Twelve: Biblical Counseling Will Be Multi-cultural

The fact that biblical counseling is universal in no way excludes the truth that biblical counseling should be and will be multi-cultural—integrating into its universal worldview the unique Christian perspectives of both genders, all races, and all nationalities (Revelation 5:9).

The day of exclusive theory-building by white males (I am one) and of history-making by dead white males, thankfully, is over. Historical and contemporary insights and practices derived from Christian women and men from all people groups must be integrated into our biblical counseling worldview. Otherwise, it is hypocritical to call it a worldview.

That’s why I have been passionate about co-authoring books like Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, and Sacred Friendships: Listening to the Voices of Women Soul Care-Givers and Spiritual Directors. Giving voice to the voiceless throughout church history and in our current times is essential.

Conclusion: Daring to Dream

I dream of the day when I speak on biblical counseling and someone says, “When you say ‘biblical counseling,’ do you mean lay, pastoral, and professional Christian counseling that is scriptural, theological, historical, positive, relational, relevant, transformative, holistic in theory, holistic in methodology, holistic in equipping, universal, and multi-cultural?” Together, let’s make that dream a reality so that when we place “biblical” in front of “counseling,” pastors, seminary students, professional Christian counselors, and lay spiritual friends respond with joyful anticipation.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Future of Biblical Counseling, Part 12

The Future of Biblical Counseling
Dreaming a Dozen Dreams

Part 12: Dream Number Eleven
Biblical Counseling Will Be Universal

Welcome to a multi-part Blog on The Future of Biblical Counseling. We need clarity on the issue of what makes biblical counseling biblical. I invite you to join the conversation.

Dream Number Eleven: Biblical Counseling Will Be Universal

Comprehensive World-Changers

The Apostle Paul insists that all mature, equipped believers are competent to counsel (Romans 15:14). Therefore, biblical counseling is universal—it is what lay people do as spiritual friends, what pastors do as soul physicians, and what professional Christian counselors do as caregivers.

Comprehensive Worldview

Biblical counseling and Christian counseling are synonymous. That thought is sure to surprise some and raise objections from others. However, biblical counseling is a mindset, a perspective, a worldview, a way of looking at life that informs how we understand people, problems, and solutions. It is universal in that it shapes our view of the universe based upon the view of the universe revealed by the Creator of the universe.

Sometimes we fail to grasp that all counselors counsel out of some worldview. The Bible provides the worldview out of which Christian counselors minister. It doesn’t imply an endless stream of Bible quotes thrown at a counselee or parishioner like a lucky charm from our toolbox of canned verses. Instead, it results in unique, person-specific, situation-specific, naturally-flowing spiritual conversations and appropriate, relevant, shared scriptural explorations built from a comprehensive worldview.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Future of Biblical Counseling, Part 11

The Future of Biblical Counseling
Dreaming a Dozen Dreams

Part 11: Dream Number Ten
Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Equipping

Welcome to a multi-part Blog on The Future of Biblical Counseling. We need clarity on the issue of what makes biblical counseling biblical. I invite you to join the conversation.

Dream Number Ten: Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Equipping

Many training models for biblical counseling tend to focus either on content (biblical truth), competence (relational skillfulness/counseling techniques), character (the counselor’s spiritual formation), or on community (connecting as the Body of Christ). Future equipping in biblical counseling will make no division between content, competence, character, and community.

Many verses exemplified this four-fold, comprehensive equipping model, including Romans 15:14. “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another.”

Scriptural insight, learned in the context of intimate Christian community, and applied to the spiritual character development of the counselor-in-training will result in the relational competency necessary to interact soul-to-soul and deeply impact others for Christ. This holistic, four-fold model, applied in lay, pastoral, and professional Christian counseling training, will produce maturing wounded healers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

African American Hope—Then and Now

African American Hope—Then and Now

As I pen these words, America has just elected its first African American President—Barack Obama. While Evangelical Christians may take issue with President-elect Obama’s pro-choice views on abortion, and perhaps with various other political positions, no Christian, of any race, can deny the historic nature of what has just occurred.

For African Americans in particular, Obama’s election is a ray of hope. And hope—awaiting a better future day—has always been core to African American Christianity.

Hope Then: The Story of Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne

African American Daniel Alexander Payne was a Bishop in, an early leader of, and the official historian for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC). Reflecting back on the 1816 organizing convention of the AMEC, Payne believed that the separation of the AMEC from the white Methodist Episcopal Church was “beneficial to the man of color” in two ways.

“First: it has thrown us upon our own resources and made us tax our own mental powers both for government and support.” Secondly, it gave the black man “an independence of character which he could neither hope for nor attain unto, if he had remained as the ecclesiastical vassal of his white brethren.” It produced “independent thought,” “independent action,” and an “independent hierarchy,” and the latter “has made us feel and recognize our individuality and our heaven-created manhood.”

Personally, Payne experienced numerous opportunities to live out his Christian manhood. Early in his life Payne was devastated when a new law forced him to stop teaching his fellow African Americans.

Wavering on the precipice of doubt, he girded up the loins of his mind with solemn words of hope, “‘With God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. Trust in him, and he will bring slavery and all its outrages to an end.’ These words from the spirit world acted on my troubled soul like water on a burning fire, and my aching heart was soothed from its burden of woes.”

Payne engaged in a spiritual conversation with himself in which he exhorted himself to see this life from God’s eternal perspective. He encouraged himself to trust that God is good even when life is bad.

From 1619 when a Dutch man-of-war came ashore in Jamestown, Virginia carrying twenty enslaved African men and women, until November 4, 2008, 389 years elapsed. That’s almost 150,000 days waiting for hope. Hope that slavery and all its outrages, that prejudices and racism and all their outrages, would come to an end.

Hope waits. It waits 389 years. It waits 150,000 days.

Hope Now: Stories of African Americans Today

Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times reports on hope now.

“God bless America,” the woman said as she walked past the line of voters standing outside a mid-city Los Angeles elementary school. She was middle-aged, African American, with an “I Voted” sticker on her blouse. And she was bubbling over with emotion.”God bless America,” she repeated, and disappeared down the street.

It was that kind of day in heavily black neighborhoods of Southern California, where a swirl of emotions—joy, hope, pride, fear—crested after months of anticipation. For the first time in American history, an African American appeared poised to become president of the United States, and people were savoring the moment.”I’d be lying to say [race] didn't matter,” said Vincent Marshel, 43, an audio-video director at a hotel who got in line at 6:36 a.m. to vote near his home in Eagle Rock. “I’m glad I was alive and kicking to see this day come.”

Marshel was in line early, but not as early as Iris Hill. She showed up at her polling place in Valley Village at 5 a.m., and was the first voter in line at Faith Presbyterian Church. Hill, 27, usually mails in an absentee ballot, but wanted the experience of voting in a booth this time. “I’m excited about this one” she said, “It is a historic opportunity for change, and voting in person just felt right this time.”

Hill, who is African-American, sees the election as a sea change. “This election means a great deal. So much had to change to get to this point,” she said. Hill said she was thinking of her grandmother, who was born in 1929 and lives in North Carolina.”She was part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in Birmingham, fighting for basic rights. And for her to go from being a disenfranchised non-voter in the South to being able to vote in this election for an African-American for president. . . .”

Hope Waits

One need not have voted for Barack Obama, nor agree with his political positions to understand that November 4, 2008 is a profound day in American history. It is also a profound example of the power of hope, of the power of trusting in a good God who shapes beauty from ashes, who empowers us to move beyond the suffering.

It is a day that can profoundly impact each of us personally if we will apply the message of hope to our lives, particularly to times of suffering in our lives. How long do you wait when life beats you down? How do you cope when devastating doubts seek to defeat your faith?

Hope waits. Hope waits on God who is a time-God. Hope waits 150,000 days for God to bring good out of what people intend for evil.

Hope waits because hope trusts that God is good. Hope believes that our physical eyes perceiving our physical world can never be the final arbiter regarding the goodness of God. We need faith eyes to see that God is at work even when all seems lost.

And, yes, sometimes we do not see His work until that final day when all tears will be wiped away. But every once in a while, even in this life, we can see glimpses, a small taste now, of that future day of hope.

For many, November 4, 2008 is such a day.

[1]For more on Bishop Payne, see Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Baker, 2007.
[2]Payne, A History of the A.M.E. Church, I, pp. 9-12.
[3]Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years, p. 28.
[4]Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2008.

The Future of Biblical Counseling, Part 10

The Future of Biblical Counseling
Dreaming a Dozen Dreams

Part 10: Dream Number Nine
Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Methodology

Welcome to a multi-part Blog on The Future of Biblical Counseling. We need clarity on the issue of what makes biblical counseling biblical. I invite you to join the conversation.

Dream Number Nine: Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Methodology

In Christian counseling today, there seems to be a great divide between models that focus on suffering and those that focus on sinning. Biblical counseling will treat both suffering and sin by recognizing that God’s Word is profitable for dealing with the evils we have suffered (soul care) as well as with the sins we have committed (spiritual direction). True biblical counseling offers comfort for the hurting as well as confrontation for the hardened. It provides sustaining and healing for those battered by life as well as reconciling and guiding for those ensnared by Satan.

Parakaletic Counseling: Soul Care for Suffering/Sanctification—John 14:15-31; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Sustaining and healing (soul care for suffering) are classic terms in the history of Christian pastoral care.
[i] Through sustaining and healing, biblical counselors will offer parakaletic care (called alongside to comfort—like the Holy Spirit our Divine Comforter, John 14:15-31; 2 Corinthians 1:3-11).[ii]

Sustaining says, “It’s normal to hurt.” The counselor climbs in the casket with the hurting spiritual friend to empathize with the pain of their earthly story.

Healing says, “It’s possible to hope.” The counselor celebrates the empty tomb and helps spiritual friends to see life with spiritual eyes through grasping God’s eternal story of working good out of evil.

Nouthetic Counseling: Spiritual Direction for Sin/Sanctification—Romans 15:14

Reconciling and guiding (spiritual direction for sin and sanctification) are equally historic terms.
[iii] Through reconciling and guiding, God will use biblical counselors to empower repentant and forgiven believers to apply principles of growth in grace.

Reconciling says, “It’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven.” The counselor loads the conscience with guilt while lightening the conscience with grace.

Guiding says, “It’s supernatural to mature.” The counselor empowers the counselee to tap into Christ’s resurrection power.

Parathetic Counseling

What might we call such holistic counseling? Combining the comforting element for suffering implicit in the Greek word parakaleo with the confronting element for sinning implicit in the Greek word nouthetic we have parathetic counseling. It is comprehensive, holistic, and balanced biblical counseling that deals both with suffering and sin.

[i]William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle. Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective. New York: Harper & Row, 1964, p. 8.
[ii]See Tim Clinton and George Ohlschlager, Competent Christian Counseling: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care. Colorado Springs, Waterbrook, 2002, pp. 54-61. See also, Robert Kellemen, Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007, pp. 39-57.
[iii]William Clebsch & Charles Jaekle. Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective. New York: Harper & Row, 1964, p. 9.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Future of Biblical Counseling, Part 9

The Future of Biblical Counseling
Dreaming a Dozen Dreams

Part 9: Dream Number Eight
Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Theory

Welcome to a multi-part Blog on The Future of Biblical Counseling. We need clarity on the issue of what makes biblical counseling biblical. I invite you to join the conversation.

Dream Number Eight: Biblical Counseling Will Be Holistic in Theory

In the past, at times some models of biblical counseling have focused on one primary aspect of human nature—our volitionality—our ability to act, will, choose, behave. Such a focus is incomplete. It does not offer a fully biblical “personality theory.” Without a biblical personality theory we have no way of accurately assessing whether the model provides a scriptural perspective on people, problems, and solutions.

The Imago Dei

Biblical counseling will focus on the full range of human nature created in the image of God (imago Dei). A holistic biblical understanding of the imago Dei includes seeing human beings as relational beings who desire (our spiritual, social, and self-aware capacities), rational beings who think, volitional beings who choose, emotional beings who experience, and physical beings who act. Biblical counseling models of change will focus on each of these areas, seeing the human personality as holistically united.

Biblical counseling will not deny the interplay or the complexity of our mind/brain and body/soul connection. Such biblical counseling will take seriously the role of the brain (in a fallen world in an unglorified body) and its impact on healthy human functioning.

The Complexity of Human Functioning

One way to assess whether any model is truly biblical or not is to ask whether that model provides a thorough assessment of who we are in our Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

Biblical counseling models provide theologically sound and practically relevant description of God’s original design for us as relational (spiritual, social, self-aware) beings, rational, volitional, emotional, and physical beings.

Biblical counseling models then provide theologically sound and practically relevant diagnoses of how our fall into depravity distorted God’s original design for us as relational (spiritual, social, self-aware) beings, rational, volitional, emotional, and physical beings.

Biblical counseling models then provide theologically sound and practically relevant models of how our redemption in Christ returns us through our salvation and progressive sanctification to God’s original design for us as relational (spiritual, social, self-aware) beings, rational, volitional, emotional, and physical beings.