Overstated distinctions between vision and mission; coaching and training; empathy and sympathy

Hours spent in seminars listening to people going round in circles about difference between training and coaching, vision statements and mission statements or sympathy and empathy is time I’ll never get back.

Overly strict definitions of terminology, in pop-leadership, pop-education and pop-psychology send alarm bells for me. The more someone makes of the distinctions, the more wary I am of the claims. Sometimes it feels like indoctrinating someone in making the categorical antithesis is more important than the actual education value of what’s being conveyed anyway!

But more important, in these cases the confusion is caused by drawing sharp either-or distinctions between two things that actually have significant overlap with one another, and often include one another. So the endless confusion and debate is caused by trying to divide things that are more closely interwoven. Rather than trying to divide apart, better to describe how they inter-relate.

So, as far as I can see, in the end a verb-driven mission statement is one way to set vision… and a description of a desired future is one way to explain the mission. Or most training will have a coaching dimension to it, and coaching will often slide sideways into providing training input. Besides, like with the Socratic method or with counselling: we’re kidding ourselves if we think that the questions we ask can ever be entirely non-directive. We are training in the way we coach, even if we like to think we are merely facilitating. And lastly, empathy and sympathy in their original, positive definitions are very closely related. Was the term ’empathy’ coined to enhance and enrich the best forms of sympathy? Or to react against a sickly kind of sympathy? Ultimately sharp distinctions which praise empathy and put down sympathy are often attacking a straw man of a kind of ‘sympathy’ that has redefined the word by its worst manifestations.

Healthy deconstruction of faith

A great quote from the excellent Christianity Today Quick To Listen podcast:

“Often people do use the word ‘deconstruction’ to mean a rejection of faith but I think usual they don’t. Usual they’re talking about:
 
“‘Hey listen, I inherited this faith, perhaps from my parents, or from childhood and I’m realising as I get older , as I study more, as learn more, I really need to make this my own. And it’s gonna change.’
 
“I mean, how many of us can say that our faith is identical to what it was when we were teenagers? Right? That’s incredibly rare. I think in some ways we all go through subtle deconstructions in our faith. And that’s ok, as long as there’s a construction.
 
“I mean, the term ‘deconstruction’ comes from literary criticism and it doesn’t mean like it sounds like: to tear down something. It actually means to expose the tensions within a text. Right? And kind of see how it’s put together, what power dynamics are at play.
 
“And so, in the best sense, deconstruction of faith can actually be a positive thing, where you’re just giving it a closer analysis and truly trying to understand how your faith works. What’s essential, what’s inessential, what’s cultural, what’s truly biblical.
 
“I do think people can go through a healthy deconstruction that ends up with a stronger faith. And that was my prayer for Josh when I saw his announcement.” Drew Dyck (from 16:31 to 17:34) 

Why are enrolments in theological colleges declining in Australia?

An intriguing interview in lots of ways: at least presents the distinctive outlook of Moore College to be weighed as you will.

One comment that was interesting was ‘Theological college enrolments are declining in Australia, the UK and the USA”. This is a helpful observation, because it warns us against being too quick to explain the phenomenon with reference to local factors. If similar things are happening in several other countries, then it suggests that there are larger forces at work.

Also worth bearing in mind, that if this has been going on for 5–10 years, then the causes which led to this would have to have been at work for another 5–10 years before that. Again, warns us against pet theories that point to something that happened a few years ago.

Church staff and external income

I haven’t been blogging anywhere near as much for a few reasons:

  • Much of the types of discussions I used to host on my blog now happen a lot more naturally and conveniently directly on my Christian Reflections Facebook Page (and linked Twitter account). If there were an easy to put the same stuff into my blog that I put on Twitter/Facebook, that’d be a good way to revive the blog… but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet :-/ Any suggestions? Maybe I just need to post into the three locations: Facebook, Twitter and Blog?
  • I have been doing more long-form writing, first with The Good Life in the Last Days (also available on Audible and Christian Audio) that came out last year, and now working on a new book whose working title is The Vine Movement: Building Trellises for the Global Vine. It’s an excerpt from this work in progress that I’m sharing in this post.

Super keen to what you think about this one. I started writing this section, thinking it’d be only a couple of paragraphs. But as I started getting feedback (on the Facebook Page and Twitter) from people from different countries and different church backgrounds, I realised it’s more complex than I first thought!

Church Staff and External Income

With regard to money, parachurches need to manage their finances beyond the basic standards legal compliance, but adopt policies that enshrine sound principles of wisdom and godliness. For example, while seeking to honour and care for those who work hard for the ministry, we should question what level of remuneration and hospitality is inappropriately luxurious. As the Lausanne Commission on Co-operation wrote:

While the Commission understands the need for stressing the interrelationship of money, time and energy, it regrettably notices that the life-style of some para-church leaders leaves a lot to be desired if they wish to impress the Christian public with responsible stewardship. We need to be extra careful in differentiating between essentials and luxuries, perhaps especially in the area of travel.

A basic starting point for a parachurch governing body to assess an appropriate level of remuneration and provision is for those who set such policies to do enough research to learn what the average standard might be for relatively equivalent contexts. Then the governing body can make its own judgement about whether the average might be too luxurious or too austere.

How should Christian leaders think about additional income that is earned through parachurch activity (wedding and funeral fees, book or music royalties, speaking or board member honorariums, consultancy fees, part-time paid positions)? While there is no absolute biblical command on this matter, and there is need for substantial freedom and diversity, a few things are worth considering about the nature of gospel work.

1. The nature of employment in Christian leadership

First, like with any employment, the Christian ministry “worker deserves his wages” (1Tim 5:18) and is fully justified in claiming this right for any work they do (1Cor 9:1–12). Second, the “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1Tim 5:17) and so churches should seek to generously provide for their paid leader, rather than seek to police contentment through low remuneration. Third, Christian leaders are paid in order to be freed up to perform their gospel ministry: more as a stipend than it is a wage (as illustrated in Acts 18:5). Fourth, Christian ministries ought to have a generous, spiritual interest in the wider kingdom of God beyond the bounds of their organisation and Christian leaders have a wider responsibility to God’s work in the world beyond their formal employer.

 

2. Risks of paid external ministry work

Work beyond the area of primary employment brings particular risks that need to be managed. First, additional external ministry work and mental load might detract from a Christian leader’s primary ministry, for which they have been employed (kind of like 1Cor 7:32–35). Second, the benefits a Christian leader gets from external ministry (not only money, but also respect and future ministry opportunities) creates a conflict of interest, which might distort their priorities and judgments: will they choose what is best for the primary ministry, or what is best for their external ministry? Third, however additional is received, the Christian leader must flee greed and pursue generosity, for they should not think “godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain…. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Tim 6:3–10). Fourth, a Christian leader should always be concerned about commending the gospel by living in such a way that is seen to be “above reproach” (1Tim 3:2).

 

3. Ways to manage the risks of paid external ministry work

These dangers can be managed in the following ways: If the parachurch ministry was conducted within the context and regular hours of a Christian leaders’ ministry job, it is fitting for the organisation for which the leader works to receive the income — or for the income to be given to some other church, parachurch or charity. The work was done in the context of their primary role and funded by their salary so it is just them fulfilling a differing aspect of that role. However, if a Christian leader has additional personal needs that a church is financially unable to meet, additional income might be used for this purpose. In such cases, it is usually best for this to be formally approved by their employer.

If a Christian leader does external ministry outside of their regular ministry context and hours, this raises questions around the nature of employment in Christian ministry. Because Christian leaders paid so as to be freed up to give themselves to the work of ministry, it is legitimate for those employed full-time to ask whether any additional ministry capacity they have ought to be devoted to the ministry to which they are primarily appointed. Because of this, it is usually appropriate for the Christian leader who is employed full-time to formally seek permission from their primary employer before taking on substantial amounts of external ministry work. While recognising there are many factors here, it seems to me far wiser for any income related to a Christian leaders’ ministry, to be largely thought of in the same way whether done inside work hours or not. It is all part of them fulfilling their role in serving God’s people. Why does a full-time Christian leader need any more income to be freed up to conduct their ministry than a full-time salary?

If a Christian leader works across several a variety of parachurch ministries, they need to declare these various activities as potential conflicts of interest to each leadership team they are accountable to. They cannot simply presume to use the public platform and mailing lists of one ministry to promote another parachurch ministry, especially if they personally benefit from this ministry. They need to be examine their motivations before requiring their team members to purchase books they have written; or to subscribe to services or register for conferences hosted by external organisations they are involved with. So also, if they are employed by a local church they must be careful not to privilege this church in their local parachurch activity, such as inviting all the university to their church from the campus Christian Union they help lead.

If a Christian leader chooses to keep substantial external income, additional steps need to be taken to guard against greed and to avoid any appearance of greed. This might mean publicly declaring how much of their income they give away. Or it might mean the establishment of a trust, whose trustees decide how much income might go to the Christian leader and what to do with the rest. If a Christian leader can be freed up from relying on income from their primary employer, this obviously allow the money that would otherwise go to their salary to go to other good causes. Lack of financial dependence might even make such a leader a more courageous truth-teller, since they do not fear for job security. However, such freedom could also lead to an unhelpful autonomy which should be restrained by a clear set of expectations and accountability.

The less the parachurch work is the work of gospel ministry, the less directly these concerns apply. Being employed as a preacher is different than being employed as a parachurch administrator or a teacher in a Christian school. But even in these other cases, many of these principles are still worth considering and applying as is appropriate.

 

StartUp Podcast on Church Planting Part 5 — Women in Christian leadership

Part 1: There’s lots to like

Part 2: General ways it misses the mark

Part 3: Hell and Calvinism

Part 4: Homosexuality and transparency


This one has been sitting in my drafts folder for month, just because I haven’t been able to carve out the time to finish it off. But it’s worth touching on, for the sake of completeness and for because it is an important issue.  So here is an attempt to touch on the issues raised in Episode 4 around women in church leadership.

Women, representation and wisdom

In the podcast, good concerns are raise around how a church leadership structure that doesn’t involve women at every level of decision making misses out on important wisdom and safeguards. Women often have different experiences and concerns that they bring to decision-making. If men make plans and decisions without women, their plans will often be lopsided or clumsy or damaging because they may not have considered certain things.

This episode raises the issues of different kinds of abuse in church cultures, and suggests that these things could have been significantly reduced if more women were involved in leadership:  a claim that is also made in the Australian Royal Commission into institutional abuse. It’s difficult to know how to substantiate this claim. Showing direct cause and effect relationships in complex situations is not at all straightforward. The bluntly simplistic assertion: ‘the problem was male-only leadership, the solution is mixed leadership’ is of course naïve. I suspect power corrupts and compromises us no matter what our sex is, or what representation of sexes is involved in power structures.

But a more representative power structure will avoid many extremes. In many cases, more women, with their often different set of experiences (including experiences of power imbalance) and priorities (including concerns for caring and nurture, not merely success in tasks and mission outcomes) will slow down and balance out reckless, thoughtless and downright terrible plans and decisions. But it will hardly remove the problem of power abuses.

Certainly the evident failures of many church leadership cultures should make us eager to be willing to try lots of things that might improve. And more representative leadership is well worth investing in, not only to ‘fix a problem’ but also for other benefits it will bring. Don’t mishear me, I’m largely on board with a lot of the push for figuring out how to get more diversity and representation into church leadership. But I’m also convinced that the Scriptures reserve the role of eldership of the church to men and give men a place of ‘head’ in marriage and family.

My concern here is that we should not to give a proposed strategy the status of immovable moral demand. Moreover, the flow of thought in this episode suggests that unless such representation is absolutely universal in scope you are wrong and complicit in church abuse. That is overstating the case. There are many ways to ensure women are heard and empowered and included that don’t require ordained women’s ministers and 50/50 splits in every leadership committee. Healthy but conservative church cultures can do a good job of listening to women across the church and genuinely incorporating their insights into plans and decisions often without formal leadership roles. By contrast I have no doubt that progressive church cultures can develop their own ruthless corporate ministry culture that tramples over some women (and some men) who do not fit the agenda of the staff and leadership, even if that leadership has gender parity.

It is overly simplistic and ideological to insist on one particular practical outworking of these concerns. Especially if it overturns what the Bible actually says.

 

The Bible vs Reason and Experience

One of the saddest and most revealing aspects of this episode was how honest AJ and Leah Smith are about how they have problems with what they think the Bible is saying. The honesty is impressive. At several points they more or less say “This is what the Bible seems to be saying… but… well… yeah… I’m not sure if I want to obey that anymore.”

This is the tone of the whole series, not only for AJ and Leah Smith, but also for the podcast host, Eric Mennel (as is seen in the extraordinary final episode): a bit of weariness with formal Christian institutions and teachings because of practical and personal discomfort and dissonance. There is a sense of: ‘I used to believe this, but that made things hard, and clashed with other things I think and feel… so now I don’t believe it anymore’.

Now I know there are many devout Christians who seek to honour the Scriptures as God’s word and have reached a different conclusion about the Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women in the home and the church. But at the point of recording this episode, that’s not where the Smiths seems to be. One wonders if after the fact they might find a theology to match their hunches and intuitions. And while I realise that sometimes we arrive at true and genuine convictions through indirect routes (what begins as an intuitive dissonance can lead me on a journey to clarify my convictions)… I also think sometimes we do compromise convictions through this process (I adjust what I believe to suit my preferences).

Leaving aside any attempts to analyse or spiritually diagnose AJ and Leah, this raises an important issue for us all: will I trust God and his word even if in the moment it is very hard to square this with my intellectual questions, intuitive discomfort and practical struggles? Can I sit in an unresolved place of asking and searching, but also trusting and submitting? Can I even say “Look, at the moment, I don’t know WHY God says it that way, but I trust God is good”?

This kind of thoughtful faith should move conservative Christians to review and reform our faith and practice, within the bounds and under the light of God’s word. Yes, we should rethink how our church power structures sideline women and excuse ungodly behaviour. But how can we strive to address these things within the framework of God’s word?

 

Productivity hack: taking on too much shows you what you should stop doing

The last couple of years have been interesting in terms of my job, my wider ministry and my personal life on lots of levels. Lots of new things have come into my life, and I’ve taken on new kinds of responsibilities: whether with more staff, or new book projects or organisational projects. I think I’ve made good decisions about what to say Yes to and what to say No to… but this has still led to having Too Much To Do.

When I anticipate having Too Much To Do, I do all the Right Things: writing out a full list of my goals, projects and next actions, analyse them using the Important/Unimportant—Urgent/Non-Urgent matrix, Do/Dump/Delegate/Defer, set realistic deadlines and schedule chunks of time (including regular time in my calendar. In fact, these last few years I’ve been more proactive that I have previously in setting aside some time on alternating weeks to work on different major projects/areas of responsibility (which has kind of worked, sort of, not really  — I think it’s made space in my head for ‘it’s ok not to try to do a bit of everything every week, more than actually locking in an actual routine).

BUT the thing I’ve noticed… which is the thing this blog post is actually about: how what you think you have prioritised compared to what you actually end up prioritising.

What I’ve noticed, is:

1. Be smart about pre-planning certain key things

There are some things you need to be proactive and smart about when you’re too busy, or else they just won’t happen. Because some things are sufficiently hard to keep doing in the craziness of things, and are never especially a big priority. If these things do matter, then you have to be smart and plan ahead around them in a different way:

  • any meetings that need to happen regularly or semi-regularly need to be booked in advance, preferably for the whole year. It’s easier to re-schedule and cancel some of them than to have to organise them as the year goes on.
  • Any regular jobs that need delegating or parceling out need to be done in advance. It’s hard, again, to find the energy and motivation to do a string of minor delegations across the year. I am especially thinking here of ministry teams, where there might be 5–10 projects or events that need to be done. Divvy these up early.

But this is also true potentially for lots of other things: holidays is a big one, too. I guess it’s good to notice in a busy season what kind of smallish actions take a disproportionate amount of energy for you (others for me include booking doctor/dentist appointments and writing agendas/minutes) … and other delegate them out, or plan them in advance as much as possible.

 

2. Embrace fuzzy edges and minor failures

Having said that, in a busy season, when you are attempting more massive important things, then smaller but valuable things should suffer.

If, like me, you aspire to #inboxzero and being responsive to email and SMS requests and being reliable about deadlines (re-scheduling in advance if you won’t hit them) and being on top of meetings (even if  5–10 minutes late) and closely managing things delegated to others and generally remembering things… you have to also be comfortable to let this go a bit.

It’s ok to forget some stuff. It’s ok to accidentally double book or run hopelessly late sometimes. It’s ok to delegate something, not follow up on the delegation and have the thing not happen. It’s ok to manage your email and TODO list in survival mode. It’s ok to fail and ask for forgiveness.

The reality is LOTS AND LOTS of people and even entire ministries do things like this ALL THE TIME. That doesn’t make it good. But it does make it ok-ish. And normal. And fine. Things go on well enough. And most people’s expectations assumes that most other people are unreliable. So embrace that!

I still have found that experience seedy and stressful and unpleasant. I have tried to review and adjust my habits and patterns to avoid some of the worst of these things… but it is good to recognise that ‘perfect, well-oiled machine, mind-like-water’ is often the enemy of doing really important things.

And sometimes the things that you were going to do through diligence, get done by others through the initiative of others. Sometimes things you were doing to do in response to a note-to-self in your unemptied inbox, you do spontanteously through remembering about it in a quiet moment. Sometimes things just don’t end up happening and they weren’t that important anyway.

 

3. Let yourself discover your actual priorities

A final thing, that I kind of knew, but have definitely noticed afresh over the last few years, is that you end up not doing things that don’t matter to you. These might not be the things you rationally assessed to be the things you shouldn’t do. They are:

  • the things that you Really Don’t Want To, which add a massive drain on your energy. Each of us have different things in this  category. Often we have to exercise self-discipline and faithfulness and do these things anyway. But there’s a fair bit of wiggle room. And it’s ok to go with the way you a naturally wired to a certain extent. For me: administration and routine meetings fit into this category.
  • The things that you deep down Know Don’t Really Matter. There’s lots of things for me that I value. I want to be the person who does these things. And I know they are things you just have to do regularly to make them worth doing. Blogging is like that. I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, and I rarely have gaps longer than a month. And blogging is not something I’m going to cut out of my life in my analysis of what I should stop doing in a busy season. But in practice, in the midst of the intensity, I intuitively know that no great problems are created by blogging less and not great outcomes are achieved by blogging more. So I intuitively have been blogging more like once a month the last 2 years rather than once a week. I hadn’t planned to do that.. .but it just happened.

All of this is the reason why the Manager Tools podcast rightly recommends delegating TOO much to other people is a great way to help those who work with you learn how to prioritise and also to discover what really doesn’t matter.

 

 

 

Mikey Lynch is one of the directors of Geneva Push and regularly sharing his thoughts here on this Christian Reflections blog.

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