Newsletter 644 – What’s an Evangelical – And Who Cares?

I rarely pay attention to American presidential campaigns because they continue non-stop and the candidates so often act like immature kindergarteners, with sweeping statements, nastiness, part-truths and mutual character assassinations. Sometimes entire groups of voters—like the elderly, Hispanics, or millennials–are described in simplistic and inaccurate ways. That includes evangelical voters. I rarely identify as an evangelical any more. My theology remains firmly evangelical: It has not changed. But it’s embarrassing to be grouped with people who share my beliefs about God but whose words, actions, and political views are so different from mine.

evangelical 1Last week a CNN reporter published his study of the evangelical sub-culture and identified seven groups, at least in the United States. If you identify as an evangelical in theology, do you fit among the following?

  1. The Old Guard. These people–James Dobson and John Hagee are examples–believe the US is and should remain a Christian nation. Many are highly involved with right wing conservative politics.
  2. Institutional Evangelicals like Rick Warren head megachurches, charities seminaries and evangelical organizations.
  3. Entrepreneurial Evangelicals (Jerry Fallwell Jr. or Kenneth Copeland) often have big ministries, television outreaches, and schools all built on good business models.
  4. “Arm’s Length” Evangelicals such as John Piper and Timothy Keller “talk more about Jesus than about politics.” They avoid political activism and focus more on “feeding the believers” and on charity.
  5. Millennial Evangelicals (Eric Teetsel, Jordan Sekulow and Jonnie Moore) grew up under the old guard and tend to be politically conservative, but they are less opposed to same-sex marriage or environmental regulations, and they are friends with people who don’t accept their views.
  6. Liberal Evangelicals are best represented by Jimmy Carter or Jim Wallis.
  7. Cultural Evangelicals say they are born again and accept evangelical theology but they rarely go to church. They are like nonreligious Jews who still identify as Jewish.

A recent report from the National Association of Evangelicals defines evangelicals as those who strongly believe that:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what we believe.
  • It is very important for us personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

What is your reaction? How much does it matter? Please comment.

Newsletter 643 – The Art of Building Greatness

Every year, usually in February, I teach a course at Richmond Graduate University in Atlanta. Currently titled “Models of Relating Christianity and Counseling,” the course has two textbooks including Practicing Greatness published by Reggie McNeil back in 2006. The author is not a counselor and the book never mentions what we once called “the integration of psychology and theology.” Instead, McNeil writes that aspiring to greatness is an admirable goal, consistent with humility, and worthy for leaders in every “sector of society,” presumably including mental health professions. With a clear Christian emphasis, McNeil discusses the disciplines of self-awareness, self-management, self-development, mission, decision-making, belonging, and aloneness. My class is built on the assumption that who you are and who you become as a spiritual leader is more important than what you do to combine faith and practice.

Lewis Howes 1A more contemporary book (which is not a textbook for the course I’m teaching) is The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, a “two-sport all-American athlete and former professional football player.” When a career-ending injury left Howes out of work and sleeping on his sister’s couch he knew that gridiron greatness was impossible. Eventually he rose above his disappointment and became an Olympic gold-mentalist and very successful businessman who received White House recognition as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30. This success was a result of hard work, determination, the development of specific habits, and a concentrated effort to learn from “masters of greatness,” including many whom Howes got to know personally.

For Christmas I gave copies of The School of Greatness to several friends who are facing career decisions. The author does not write from a Christian perspective but he gives a number of practical guidelines, some of which are well accepted but easily forgotten. Illustrated with captivating stories and personal discoveries, the chapters focus on issues such as creating a vision, turning adversity into advantage, cultivating a champion’s mindset, managing your body, practicing positive habits, and living a life of service.

This is a self-help book, “a real-world guide to living bigger, loving deeper, and leaving a legacy.” Self-help books are not all bad. This one is thought provoking, written by a successful young guy who has good insights for readers of any age: maybe including your clients, your parishioners, or even you. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 642 – Connecting Across Cultural and Age Barriers

baguette 14Last week’s newsletter brought this thoughtful response from Sheryl Bullock who is a life coach: I am not particularly good at crossing cultural and age barriers to develop relationships with others. I would love to hear your stories about the people you mentioned…. What questions did you ask them initially? How did they respond? At what point did you know you had made a good connection with them? …There is a huge need for this information. People love stories and I think you still have many to tell!

Here are some observations that I’ve had to this point:

  • Ask God to lead. Sometimes when I will go into a church service, fitness club or restaurant I ask God to open a conversation that might be of value. The previous post mentioned friendships arising from casual conversations with a grocery checker, a waiter, and a stranger at a conference book table. These contacts seemed to arise spontaneously. Did they? Be available and you will be connected.
  • Cultivate the attitudes that characterize all good cross-cultural conversations: Be friendly, sensitive, willing to learn, respectful, authentic, not paternalistic (looking down on others), flexible. It’s amazing how people respond positively to attitudes like these.
  • Resist your biases. (We all have them). If you disapprove of people who differ from you, this will be picked up quickly. That stifles connectivity.
  • Express genuine interest in others. Ask open-ended questions. Then listen. Recently my wife and I moved into a condo community where we didn’t know anybody. Doors have opened with statements like “Hi, my name is Gary and we’re new here. Tell us about you.” Ask others about themselves and they usually respond. This works with visitors to your church, for example, with people you meet in the fitness club, or even with busboys who pick up your restaurant dishes.
  • Respect boundaries by avoiding personal questions or asking about confidential information.
  • Expect that some people won’t respond to your overtures. This may reflect shyness, discomfort with your friendliness, or cultural differences. What works where I live will need to be adapted elsewhere.

Previously I mentioned a good friend who is French. He jokes that his countrymen are like baguette bread: hard on the outside but very soft once you get past the crust. This takes time, patience, and sensitivity but the benefits are great. How have you connected across age and cultural gaps? Please comment.

Newsletter 641 – How to Be People Builder

In 1976 a book appeared that has sold more than any of the others I‘ve written. How to Be a People Helper was an introduction to counseling written mostly for church people, including pastors, when professional mental health services were less popular and accepted than they are today. The book still sells even thoutwo men 10gh it’s way outdated. The publisher was not interested when I suggested an updated 40th anniversary edition but in many ways my focus has shifted from people helping to people building. This is a focus on walking with those who are going through transitions, decision-making and other life events that are less in need of counseling and better served by friends, encouragers, mentors and trained coaches.

There are few books or courses on people building but, for what it’s worth, here is some of what I’ve learned:

  • If you want to make an impact as a people builder, open your eyes and ask God to show who you might influence. I have connected with many people in my neighborhood, community, church, and classes. One example is a brilliant graduate student who arrived as an undocumented immigrant and checked out our groceries in a supermarket when he was a teenager. Another is a biracial waiter with dreadlocks and a passion to succeed as a pop musician. He was our server in a local coffee shop. There’s also a native Parisian, pastor in Paris, author and specialist in multicultural marriages. We met informally at a conference. Today these are among my closest friends. We build one another.
  • Show a genuine interest in the people you meet. Ask about their backgrounds. Listen to their stories. Expect to be surprised at what develops.
  • Recognize that each of us has a personality and a place where we have been planted. For me, striking up conversations with strangers is easy. I live in an apartment building, still teach, and regularly go to a fitness club. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted. Focus on the people who surround you. Let God work through your circumstances and personality.
  • Expect to make a difference. Legacies or resumés don’t interest me but I know what I want to leave after I’m gone: people whose lives and careers I’ve helped to build. Whatever our ages, we still have time to: Be a People Builder!

Please comment about your experiences as a people-builder or about people who spent time building you.

Newsletter 636 – Practical Perspectives on Applied Coaching

Coaching in Ministry 2I’ve long admired the work of Keith Webb although we’ve met only once. For twenty years he lived in Asia where he adapted and applied coaching to ministry settings in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. In this he demonstrated what some of my coaching teachers were reluctant to believe: coaching, like counseling and leadership, needs to be adapted culturally if it is to have maximum impact. Recently Keith released his latest book dealing with the application of coaching to Christian ministries.

More than the title, Coaching in Ministry, this is a readable, engaging introduction to coaching in general, coming from somebody who has been in the field for a long time. Whether you are a coaching beginner or a pro, in ministry or not, you might enjoy reading this slim volume with its practical wisdom about coaching and leadership. Here are some slightly edited examples from the book:

  • Part of our problems in leading is the misconception that authority comes with the obligation to be directive… But highly directive supervisors can easily find themselves micromanaging and disempowering others.
  • In contrast, coaching has become a preferred learning tool and method of people development in corporations, nonprofits and churches.
  • What’s the difference between mentors and coaches? Mentoring involves impartation—we are putting in insight, strategy, or methodology giving it into another person. Coaches are drawing out solutions from within, using profound listening and powerful questions that stimulate reflection and creativity in the person being coached…. Coaching is a non-directive conversation in which the coach’s questions prompt a person’s reflection into what God is saying.
  • Advice giving can short-circuit the discovery process and put the coach in the driver’s seat. Coaching encourages discovery, aligning with the words of Proverbs 20:5, ‘though good advice lies deep within a person’s heart, the wise will draw it out.’
  • By helping people discover ways forward instead of telling them what to do, you are building their leadership abilities.
  • Coaching helps people get moving. Here’s a question to help that process: ‘What actions could you take to move forward?
  • Coaching is the missing leadership development ingredient in many organizations, non-profits, and churches

This Christmas I plan to give Keith’s book to several of my friends who are curious about coaching. I’m glad I gave one to myself. Any comments?

Newsletter 634 – Wisdom from a 40-Year-Old Seminarian

Josh_Harris_4

The current issue of Leadership Journal (Fall, 2015) includes a short article by Josh Harris. Well-known as an author and megachurch pastor, Harris recently left his thriving ministry and went to seminary for the first time at age 40.

“I think Jesus still calls people, even pastors, to drop their nets and follow him,” Harris wrote. But why did he move his family across the continent to attend a trans denominational seminary focused on more than “merely churning out pastors.” His answers will not apply to every leader but they’re worth considering. The following words in italics are quotations from the Harris article.

  • It’s hard to evaluate and change while you’re leading. It’s hard to step back and ask questions when you’re supposed to be the guy with the answers. Can we be fresh and relevant when we’ve spent years in the same company, teaching role, retirement community, or church? We need to get outside of our bubbles, at least on occasion, to get our thinking and perspectives stretched.
  • I needed significant retooling and recalibration. Time to stop talking and to listen. Time to relearn how to abide with Jesus. Time to unlearn professional busyness…. a place to discover who you are apart from what you do. Pulling away is not available to everybody, but we can get some recharging from what we read and from the people we spend time with. My closest friends are younger than me, multicultural,  and some in professions different from mine.
  • Everything I’d learned about leadership and pastoral ministry had been in one context. While I’m grateful for many aspects of that, there are things that need to be evaluated and changed. Recently I (Gary) have realized that one way of thinking has shaped my views about leadership and building people. I devour what I can about setting goals, career planning, business leadership or getting through transitions. This can be valuable but most is very secular, focused on what we do ourselves, and ignoring how God leads when we let him show the way. The Bible affirms planning for the future. But this also can be addictive and completely deaf to divine guidance. In seminary I hope Josh Harris finds time to escape the academic busywork, getting opportunities to be still and to let God show the way.

I’ve learned a lot from students and from others who remind me to listen to Jesus. You too? Please comment.

Newsletter 632 – The Practical Side of Face-to-Face Contact

 

sisan pinker 2Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.

  • Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
  • “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
  • Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
  • When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.

The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? Please comment.

 

Newsletter 631 – Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters

Susan PinkerIn 2004 following my only experience as a surgery patient, the doctor made a prediction that proved to be accurate. He said that I’d make a complete and relatively speedy recovery. In addition to good medical care he commented on several positive signs, including my overall good physical shape based on consistent exercise, the “spirituality” that he saw, a determination to get better, my sense of humor (it beats complaining), and the social support that came from family and friends. At times I thought of this while reading psychologist Susan Pinker’s fascinating book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter.

This is not a self-help book built on inspiration and subjective opinions. Pinker does include captivating illustrative stories but, in addition, she reports on her interviews with a variety of experts and ordinary people, plus references to an impressive body of scholarly research. For example, the book documents ways in which face-to-face contact contribute to athletic success, language learning, brain development, overall health, longer life, stronger marriage, spiritual growth and better recovery from surgery like mine over ten years ago. Pinker’s work demonstrates her wide knowledge of brain functioning and neurophysiology as these relate to everyday behavior, stress-management and life fulfillment. The Village Effect is written by one of those rare scholars who is able to engage readers, write clearly, and make empirical evidence interesting and relevant.

Here are summary conclusions adapted from comments on the book’s cover:

  • People with tight circles of friends who gather regularly are likely to live an average of fifteen years longer than loners.
  • Social contact at the beginning of life helps us cope with stress later on.
  • The lowest rate of dementia appears in people with extensive face-to-face social networks.
  • A hug or a pat on the back lowers one’s physiological stress response, which in turn helps the body fight infections.
  • Women with breast cancer who have large networks of friends are four times as likely to survive as those with sparser social connections.

This is an impressive summary of what most of us suspect or know. But in what practical ways does this book’s message relate to your work, career, relationships and lifestyle? We’ll have more on this next week. Meantime, please feel free to leave a comment.

Newsletter 626 – Youthful Observations About Innovative Leadership

Relevant Magazine 2Some of you may remember that Relevant is one of my favorite magazines. Written mostly for people in their twenties (probably I’m one of their oldest readers), Relevant is described as a publication “on faith, culture and intentional living.” It includes interviews and reviews of music, books, and movies that aren’t part of my world, along with frequently insightful articles about living and contemporary issues. It assumes that its millennial readers are determined to “reject apathy” and make a difference in the world without sitting around waiting for someone else to initiate change.

Consider a two-page article on leadership by a young pastor named Aaron Loy (July/August issue). Simple and basic, the article gives only five traits of innovative leaders. But these are good reminders that apply to any of us:

  1. Learn to follow first. Loy writes that “the idea of leading can sound pretty sexy. Aspiring to lead can play to our pride, but following develops humility…. Learning how to follow is an important part of becoming a leader worth following.” Besides, following is a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  2. Find a mentor. Even the very best leaders at the highest levels of companies or organizations often have coaches and mentors to help them learn and improve. As a side note, the September/October issue of Relevant has an article titled “Why You Need a Mentor” regardless of your age. I have several mentors, all of whom challenge me and speak into my life.
  3. Finish what you start. Creative and passionate people tend to jump from one idea or project to another. This breaks trust with others who expect follow through and do not get it. Good leaders, beginners and old pros, do all they can to complete what they begin.
  4. Decide what you want to be (or do) and act accordingly. In the long run, “you will be who you have decided to be, whether actively or passively… Your life will be a reflection of the decisions you make over time”.
  5. Don’t wait for permission. Get going on your plans as soon as you can. Dreaming and talking about the future can distract many of us from taking steps to get things done.

What do you think of this list, written for young adults? Does it apply to you like it does to me? What would you add? Please comment.

Newsletter 619 – What We Can Learn from Michael Hyatt

Hyatt 2I first met Michael Hyatt when he worked for the publisher that produced many of my early books. Later he became CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, wrote successful books of his own, and continues to distribute free, online blog posts and other materials that usually are insightful and helpful for anyone interested in leadership, blogging or publishing. By following his blog and downloading some of his free ebooks and videos (www.michaelhyatt.com) you can learn a lot about publishing, writing online posts (like this one), speaking more effectively, and leadership.

Of course Michael’s advice is not always free of charge. For example, a $30 monthly fee lets you join his Platform University and get special materials. I’m still evaluating if it’s worth the cost, at least for me. In December I purchased his video course promising the “best year ever” for those who followed its principles. The course was practical, superbly produced and impressively marketed, but it alerted me to issues that are wise to evaluate whenever we use or produce self-help materials.

  • The teacher’s values. Without doubt Michael wants to be helpful, drawing from his experiences in the publishing industry and sharing conclusions that can benefit the rest of us. He also wants to make a lot of money and show others how to do the same often through self-promotion and selling (he calls it “monetizing”) whatever we do. These values are not innately bad and to his credit Michael Hyatt effectively demonstrates what he teaches. But for me monetizing and self-promotion are not what I want to characterize my life or career.
  • The teacher’s beliefs. Geared to secular audiences, Michael demonstrates the humanistic belief that we all have the ability to set our own destinies and reach our own goals. Often these practices can be effective, but life is rarely that simple. At times unexpected illness or accidents intervene. Storms destroy our homes or layoffs disrupt our well-planned careers. Truth is, we are not the masters of our own destinies. Probably Michael agrees but these realities are noticeably absent from his materials.
  • The teacher’s theology. Without discounting Michael Hyatt’s excellent advice, Christians and other believers need to ask about the will of God and biblical values in all of this. After giving a biblical example in the “best year ever” series, Michael quickly reassures listeners that this will not become a Bible study. Why so defensive?

I continue to learn a lot from Michael Hyatt. You can too. But be cautious. Any comments?