Investing in Others: Buy Low and Never Sell

designPlease don’t take financial investing advice from me. My pattern has been, “buy high and sell low.” Actually, to my shame, I don’t even put that much thought into investing money. I tend to ignore it, hoping that magically, my money will increase. Not a productive plan.

When it comes to relationships, especially ministry relationships with younger ministers, I seem to have more of a knack. One of my greatest joys in ministry is to invest myself into the ministry of a younger man. This isn’t something I have to remind myself to do – I tend to gravitate naturally to it. For that, I am grateful.

I feel as though we should find people younger than ourselves – unproven, raw and green – and “buy into them.” And we shouldn’t “sell” on that relationship unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps it is because my elders invested so heavily in me. Some never gave up on me, although they had every reason to do so. Maybe I innately grasp the truth that, if I invest wisely, my influence may live on after I’m gone. It is certain that we have heard too many young people say, “no one else believed in me or gave me a chance.”

The Apostle Paul is the standard bearer when it comes to investing in others. Rather than viewing his famous relationship with his spiritual son, Timothy, let’s consider his lesser-known, but equally as efficacious relationship with the Thessalonians. Paul writes to them from his heart: “…Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

Here is a very busy man with a lot of responsibility that is willingly and joyfully investing his life into the lives of others. They didn’t have it all together. He had little or nothing of earthly value to gain from his investments. Yet he saw something in them that motivated him to give of himself to them.

We all need to love someone enough that we give our time and attention to them.

Paul expresses his compassion for his friends:

“…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.”1 Thessalonians 2:7b (NLT)

We see tenderness and empathy and patience. In this passage, unlike others, we do not see Paul demanding progress nor censuring them for their failures. Rather, he presents his relationship as a mother – feeding and caring for his friends.

Too many of our relationships are performance and productivity based. I am guilty of running short of patience when a leader is slow to develop or, even worse, unproductive long-term. Perchance this is the case because I have been the one who is unproductive.

The “buying low” part of this equation has to do with recognizing potential. Anyone can spot an Apple stock, once it has developed. In other words, there are plenty of people to jump on the celebrity bandwagon. Once a person becomes successful, everyone wants to be his or her friend. It takes true perceptivity and discernment to be able to identify a diamond in the rough.

But, what do I have to gain from my investments?

While this is a reasonable question and we should not be ashamed to ask it, the point is not about returns – it is about investment. Many of us who impart into others expect and even demand productivity. However, an honest evaluation of our relationships may prove that we have actually become a burden to those in whom we are investing. We consider ourselves as serving but we actually are being served.

Paul says,Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV) He makes it clear that he is the one sacrificing. This is not a pity-party – he is simply pointing out that he has been a giver and not a taker.

   Leaders: If we only take from a relationship, we cannot consider ourselves the investor; we have become the beneficiary.

Relational investments are expensive. When endowing and entrusting others, especially less experienced people, we owe them. We owe them the extremely valuable assets of honestly, integrity and character.

You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.1 Thessalonians 2:10 (NLT) In the times in my life when I was hesitant to invest in others, perhaps it was because of a lack of these elements in my life. I simply didn’t have enough to share!

     Relational investments are expensive for a reason. The resources we are investing and the return we are expecting are not monetary – they are eternal.  

Buy low and never sell. This is all about promise and potential. It’s about patience and productivity.

So, find a less-experienced person than yourself. Same gender. Less-than-perfect. Build a relationship. Serve them. Pour into them. Care for them. Be patient with them. Invest in them, and watch how you both grow.

 


We Can’t Be Grateful Enough

img_0308The Bible tells us that God’s love is too great for us to fully comprehend, yet we may experience it to the fullest extent. When we experience it, we may understand it. Yet, the love of Christ is too great for us to fully understand. Ephesians 3:18-19a says, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.” This is a paradox!

How are we to understand something that is not understandable? And what does this have to do with being thankful?

Like God’s love, gratitude is a gift. It seems the more we grasp it, the farther it is from our ability to understand it. But once we experience it, we desire to embrace it more and more. It is not enough just to say, “I am thankful to God.” Our words and our thoughts are not sufficient to express our response to God’s goodness. Our vocabulary is too limited and our reasoning capabilities are hindered by our humanness. In spite of these weaknesses, the more thankful we are, the more thankful we become.

This is part of what it means to partake in the divine nature of God (II Peter 1:4). God allows us to engage in a supernatural experience with Him. He reveals His love to us; we respond and begin a life-long process of growing to love Him more every day. Likewise, God opens our hearts to the gift of gratitude, yet we can never experience enough gratitude. I was thankful yesterday – I am more thankful today than yesterday – I will be more thankful tomorrow than I am today. Ad infinitum.

We are at our worst when we are ungrateful. When we forget God’s blessings, when we become entitled, when we demand more and more – (greed, selfishness and narcissism are destructive elements), we miss the heart of God. Trying to convince an ingrate to be thankful is akin to reasoning with a man who uses the breath of life to curse God.

“God has been good!” The understatement of the century! Unless we feely come to terms with the incomprehensible goodness of God, we will lack hearts of gratitude. So, how many times must we say, “thank you” to God? Once is not enough, nor is one million times. The point is not to say “thank you” enough times. The point is to live a life of ever-increasing gratitude to the Lord.

This Thanksgiving season, let’s make our very best effort to be truly grateful. In order to accomplish this, we must realize our inability to accomplish it without God enabling us. An old song says, “even the praise comes from You.” Think about that. The thankfulness that you feel in your heart is a gift from God. You could not begin to thank Him unless He provides the wherewithal to do so. Quite humbling!

If we run out of words of gratitude, if we feel inadequate when trying to express our thankfulness, perhaps we should read the remainder of Paul’s address on the topic: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)


Cafeteria Preachers

cafeteria-preachersWho can forget the school cafeteria? Bland food, hairnet ladies – and those plastic trays! If your high school cafeteria experience was like mine, it wasn’t a matter of gourmet recipes and discriminating palates – it was a matter of being hungry enough to eat whatever they plopped on the tray. As I recall, there wasn’t a lot of choice of menu items. Eat the goulash or don’t.

I am sorry to make the comparison, but there may be a few churches and pastors who have modeled their ministry after the school cafeteria. Whatever do I mean?

We are aware of some preachers whose mantra could be, “I don’t care what you want or need, this is what I’m preaching!” Of course, effective preachers take their cues from the Holy Spirit. They preach the Word of God in an uncompromising way, regardless of the opinions of others. But there is something to be said about being in touch with the people to whom we preach and with whom we worship. A renewed sense of compassion, connection and care would do us preachers some good. While we must preach what God directs us to preach, there is nothing wrong with being aware of the needs of the people and presenting God’s Word as the solution.

I am not a fan of a watered down Gospel. We have witnessed great damage in our churches and culture as a result of “feel good preaching.” But pastors who are more determined to preach their sermons than they are to minister to their people are missing the point of preaching.

Spiritual hash is not very appetizing. Non-imaginative and stuffy spiritual pontification has never changed a life. Modern-day preachers must learn the art and discipline of exegeting a passage and expositing that truth into the practical lives of everyday people. Our job is to present the Bible in clear and meaningful ways so that the hearers of the Word can become doers of the Word. I believe that it is the responsibility of the preacher to offer the Bible in a relevant and purposeful way. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to open the minds of the hearers, but we are the spokespersons for God. This is a heavy responsibility.

We shudder to think that a person in need could attend a worship service and find no solution to their problem. While the Gospel is always the answer, some searchers may find some spiritual direction helpful. God help us to never turn away a hungry seeker.

My simple advice to preachers would be: Know to whom you preach. Understand their struggles. Be in touch with their personal lives. Study the Bible. Pray for the preacher and the listeners. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to passages that address the needs of the people. And preach passionately and compassionately what God lays on your hearts. I believe you will see lives changed.

I don’t want to be a cafeteria preacher that plops unappetizing spiritual food on the trays of people’s lives; I want to serve Gospel gourmet meals that satisfy the longings in people’s hearts.


In Defense of Millennials

design1-copyThis is not the finest moment for 20-30 somethings. The post election meltdown is the butt of many jokes. The entitlement being expressed and resulting cries of “no fair” are front-page news and the fodder of smirks across Middle American breakfast tables. “Dump Trump” tattoos are a sure bet for investment opportunities.

As a boomer, I have expressed more than my share of my disrespect of the generation that is emerging. My comments have not been as kind as they could and should have been. Interestingly, most of my millennial family and friends do not defend their generation; they laugh along with me and own up to their shortcomings.

But I’m a bit troubled by and defensive of the generalizations and broad-sweeping disrespect for those born between 1980 and 2000.

Just possibly, we (boomers) have our part of the blame They are what we raised them to be. Some of us were helicopter parents. Some of us would never allow our kids to feel pain. My 30 year old friend said this week, “We never stuck out in t-ball. We were not allowed to lose.” Participation trophies have become the joke de jour. This may be funny but it is not helping the situation. Possibly we have enabled their dysfunction.

Possibly we are compensating for our own failures. The world that the Millennials are inheriting from their parents is not in great shape. I have always found the best way to cover my mistakes is to blame someone else. We broke it – maybe we should fix it before we rip the next generation for not fixing it.

We followed “the Greatest Generation.” We may have an inferiority complex. I know some emotional bullies that, in order to make themselves look better, insult others. Hey boomers, our parents were the greatest generation, and our kids are smarter than we are. Let’s own it and stop blaming others.

One of my favorite joke/stories: Dad says to his lazy teenage son, “Do you know what Abe Lincoln was doing when he was your age?” Son says, “No, but I know what he was doing when he was your age!”

Maybe we should get our stuff together to serve as a model for those who are coming in our footsteps.

Some positives about the Millennials I know:

They are passionate. They have a lot of drive for issues that concern them.

They value authenticity. Fake won’t fly.

They are risk takers. They have few qualms about leaving the safety of home to do some awesome things – things I wouldn’t have done.

They live simpler lives. They don’t seem to need the gadgets as much as we do. (unless the gadgets include smart phones and Xbox).

They will decide what nursing homes we will live it. Be nice to them.

Seriously, I love these guys. Let’s give them a break.


I am Compelled to Speak Out about the Election

election-2016During difficult times, strong people lead. I do not presume to have perspectives that have not already been shared by others, nor am I naïve enough to think I have all the answers. But in this post-election melee, someone should represent every Christian group in regard to sharing solutions to the mess we are in.

The venom being shared via social media and in coffee shops around the country are all the evidence we need to prove that the country is deeply divided, perhaps more than any time post Civil War. With chagrin, I have watched discussions unfold in the public view, which should never happen. Racial slurs, sweeping accusations, pandemic mistrust and emotional tirades have filled the air.

As a Christian leader, please allow me a moment. We did not arrive at our current dilemma overnight. This meltdown has been long-brewing. The entire political season was steeped in disrespect and poisonous interchange. The candidates gleefully debased one another and the pundits followed suit. Marketing was especially malicious and we became acclimated to rancorous and vicious verbal assaults. When the atmosphere is as toxic as we have seen over the last few months, we must expect that the septic barrage will continue.

In my opinion, some Believers in Christ are culpable for the current societal train wreck. When people of faith openly and blatantly place their political opinions (sometimes disguised as spiritual convictions) ahead of their commitment to fellow Believers, the foundations will be shaken. When we equate the rule of a politician with the rule of God, we alienate our spiritual siblings. If we marginalize those who hold to different political opinions, we must expect that we will be separated from them, sometimes permanently.

In my opinion, too many Christians got too passionate about this election. Bridges were burned, friendships were destroyed and churches were divided. And now, too many are gloating or bemoaning the results of the election in the face of those of a different persuasion.

If we think this chasm will just go away, we should think again.

If I am correct and if some Christians are guilty of making things worse, we must offer some corrective action.

It’s time for forgiveness. It’s time to repent. It’s time to humble down. It’s time to behave like the Body of Christ.

I implore each of you who read this – please end the divisive rhetoric. It doesn’t matter who is right. It doesn’t matter who won the election. What matters is eternity, godliness and souls.

Should we choose to remain on our current path – only one individual will win – the devil.

You are not first and foremost a Democrat or a Republican or Liberal or Conservative. You are a Christian. Let’s have the mind of Christ.


Avoidance Coping by Leaders (or when leaders refuse to deal with problems)

design11There are some pretty heavy psychological observances that can be employed when studying leadership. At the risk of overanalyzing, we are considering what causes some leaders to refuse to deal with failure. I define failure in this instance as the lack of taking a group or organization where God wants it to go. While I certainly am not the ultimate judge of the leadership effectiveness of anyone, I do have the responsibility of helping some leaders be as efficacious as possible.

Diversion may be defined as something that takes attention away from what is happening. When leaders are diverted from their primary task, the organization under their care suffers. We have all witnessed this. It’s interesting to observe leaders who are serving organizations that are failing, but the leaders don’t focus on the solutions. A tendency of some leaders is to concentrate on something else and, thereby, deflect the attention that may reveal that they are neglecting their duty. The focus that is required in order to solve the issue is lost.

We leaders may be like the bird dog described by Aldo Leopold:

“I had a bird dog names Gus. When Gus couldn’t find pheasants, he worked up an enthusiasm for Sora rails and meadowlarks. This whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes masked his failure to find the real thing. It assuaged his inner frustration.” (A Sand County Almanac, p. 200)

Another example may be (hypothetically, of course!) a pastor of a shrinking church that chooses to spend his or her time debating politics or bemoaning the decline of the culture or criticizing the church members. In the few precious hours of leadership influence they have available, they point out the faults of others. I do not think that these leaders are necessarily malicious. I believe that diversion is a tactic that some leaders employ because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are frustrated by their failed efforts to fix their organization and they are compelled to do something. So, blaming others, attacking others who are having success, minding the business of others and conflicting with team members becomes their default response.

To refer again to a psychological term, rumination “refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991)” (psychologytoday.com). When people engage in rumination (overthinking) they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions. This is in the place of focusing on solutions to the problems. It can be easier for a leader to come up with reasons rather than answers. There have been times in my experience when I have spent more time blaming my predecessor, analyzing the dysfunctions of the organization and justifying my lethargy rather than working toward resolutions for the problems at hand.

Avoidance coping is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. (mentalhelp.net) A distraction or a non-essential issue can steal the attention of a leader, especially when she is under stress. It can be relieving to think about another topic rather than to continue to wrestle with one’s own problems.

Then there is the more diabolical diversion tactics. If a leader under duress can create a diversion that will focus the attention of followers on someone or something else, the pressure can be alleviated. We’ve seen this personified in blaming/projecting (pointing at others as the problem), distracting (changing the subject or avoiding confrontation) and procrastinating (putting off the inevitable).

Some unscrupulous leaders are masters at clouding the issue or offering a “red herring” – misleading or distracting from a relevant or important issue. Slight of hand or misdirection is useful in magic tricks and sports but it has no place in the leadership of an organization.

A railroad engineer is at the helm of the train, which is speeding out-of-control down the track. As it heads toward the train station where, short of preventive maneuvers, lives will be lost, the engineer discusses the poor condition of the tracks, the outdated equipment of the engine, the bad attitudes of the passengers and the lack of wisdom of those who chose to build the train station in that location. What he needs to do is hit the brakes; but instead, he focuses on things that are out of his control. The result is devastation.

Leaders, we are the engineers. The train is our organization. Let’s take ownership. People are desperate for leaders who can identify the solutions to problems and to lead the organization through the crises.


Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church