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.
Last 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?
- 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.
- Institutional Evangelicals like Rick Warren head megachurches, charities seminaries and evangelical organizations.
- Entrepreneurial Evangelicals (Jerry Fallwell Jr. or Kenneth Copeland) often have big ministries, television outreaches, and schools all built on good business models.
- “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.
- 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.
- Liberal Evangelicals are best represented by Jimmy Carter or Jim Wallis.
- 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.
Recently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.
That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:
- People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
- Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
- Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
- Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
- Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
- As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
- Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.
This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.
Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist, best known for her writings. I have profited from many of her books, especially The Middle of Everywhere that chronicles her work with immigrants adjusting to life in America, and Writing to Change the World with its practical implications for established and aspiring writers who want to impact others. With this background, I eagerly read Piper’s recent article in Psychotherapy Networker (July/August, 2015.)
Piper describes a September trip to the Oregon coast with her husband. As a one-time Oregon resident and husband of a native Oregonian, I relished Piper’s descriptions but I was especially interested in her perspectives as she approaches the end of her career. Now almost 70, she has no plans for the future. Instead she tries to be “present for my life every day.” Quoting two poets she writes, “I’ve been where I’m going…. I’ve got a tiny future and a great big past.” Piper concludes that being her age is “a place to rest in the September sun before the cold and darkness come.”
In these times when everybody seems to be rushing, there is value and great peace in resting by an ocean at sunset. But doesn’t it sound empty and hopeless, sitting around waiting for the cold and darkness to come, with no thought to the years ahead? How different from 90 year-old Jimmy Carter’s press conference last month announcing his brain cancer. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “I am completely at ease…. I’m ready for anything and looking forward to new adventure. It is in the hands of God whom I worship.”
These are age related stories, for what Pipher calls “the September afternoons of life,” but there are principles here that apply broadly—to ourselves and to the people we work with regardless of age. Ask yourself what you might have said had you been on the beach with Dr. Piper. Here’s my answer: “I applaud your desire to pause and take stock when you face choice points in life. You’re right, things may get more difficult, but think about new adventures that might be over that horizon. Set goals and make some plans that might fulfill you and impact others. Trust God to lead as you set sail into the next stage of life. Don’t ignore your future. It could be better than your past.”
Please comment. Tell us what you might have said on that beach.
Marshall Goldsmith has been described as the world’s leading executive coach. That sounds like the blurb on a book cover but for Goldsmith there’s evidence to back the claim. He has coached numerous leaders in major corporations worldwide; has been acclaimed as a top executive coach by Inc., Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and similar publications; and has written a number of best-selling books on the management of ourselves and others. I read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There when it first appeared and recently have been reading his latest book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.
Goldsmith describes four elements for change, especially personal change. He presents these elements to both his individual and corporate clients, asking core questions that need to be addressed. Pondering these questions for myself has been a useful exercise. You might think about these especially if you or your clients are going through transitions or personal changes. Look at your life, career, or organization, then ask:
- What do I (or we) want to create? These are new goals and actions–both—that can lead to a better future. These can be fun to contemplate. (For me, creating includes completing a book that’s been in my computer half-finished for almost two years)
- What do I (or we) want to preserve? These are things that serve us well and are worth keeping, sometimes with a little updating. (My list includes mentoring and walking with a few emerging leaders and high-potential, forward-looking people. Few things inspire or invigorate me as much or more)
- What do I (or we) need to eliminate? Periodically things need to be let go, even if they are still productive and fulfilling. Eliminating is especially needed if we are planning to create or add anything new. Goldsmith wrote that unless he eliminated some of the busywork, he would never create something new. (I want to cut the time-consuming habit of reading other peoples’ blogs without putting time limits on myself)
- What do I (or we) need to accept? That’s what can’t be changed or what do we know won’t change. (One personal example is my reluctance to accept unalterable changes in my long-established travel, speaking and teaching activities.)
Answering these questions can keep us from stagnation and can move us in better directions in the future. Do you agree? Please comment.
This week I joined probably thousands of others in filling out a questionnaire as part of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Global Coaching Survey 2015. The survey is being distributed in 9 languages and you are invited to complete one of the questionnaires by going to www.CoachingSurvey2015.com.
One question asks respondents to identify the niches or specialties where we like to do most of our coaching. Have you noticed how you have fallen into some specialties, perhaps because of how others perceive you or how you identify yourself? For me, that’s helping others go through transitions, finding new life or career directions, adjusting to unanticipated change or making progress in reaching their God-given potential. I’ve been going through some of this personally right now so I appreciate the challenge of shaping the future and not being swept up by the expectations or perspectives of others. How, then, can we help ourselves and our clients shape their futures? Here are some suggestions. I know most of you will think of others.
- Look to evidence of God’s leading, through Scripture, prayer and other sources.
- Ask close friends or other respected counselors who know you, listen openly, challenge you, and help you think things through.
- Take time for reflection. For you that might involve solitude and journaling.
- Look at the options and be realistic, but also be optimistic.
- Look for the positives in your situation. They’re always there.
- Don’t dwell on negative influences or circumstances. These can pull you down.
- Make a habit of gratitude for what you have, including possibities.
- Be encouraging with yourself, your clients and others. This lifts everybody up.
- Rigidly resist bitterness and complaining. Remember that bitter old men and old women start out by being bitter younger people.
- Same with resisting cynicism. This can be humorous and self-righteous flaunting for a while but it never forms the basis of a healthy future.
- Honestly accept what you had that might be gone – your health, for example, hoped for opportunities or a trusted relationship.
- Take an honest look at what you have and what you can do. Build on this.
- Keep connected with encouragers who lift your spirits. For me that’s often younger, forward-looking people, including students.
- Always be gracious.
- Never stop learning. Be proactive in this.
- Now please take a couple of minutes to comment and tell us what you would add.
“Forward leaders rise to lead people to a better future. They are able to lead people further than they would have gone on their own.” With these words a pastor and denominational leader named Ronnie Floyd begins his recent book, Forward: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future leaders. The title caught my interest but to me the content was not especially engaging, fresh, innovative or practical. Probably written as a basic text designed for Christian readers, the book’s “marks of forward leadership” are worth pondering. Future-directed leaders:
- Base their lives and leadership on biblical principles and Spirit guidance. These keep us focused and less inclined to drift from our values and mission. Clearly Scripture is a foundation for forward looking Christian leaders but does this mean that non-believers are all at a disadvantage?
- Are cross-generational. Good leaders know that a prime focus on one’s own generation can be limiting—preventing us from impacting and learning from those who are older and younger.
- Think about the future, without getting blogged in tradition or inertia. Future leaders challenge people to go further than they would go otherwise. This sounds like good coaching. We might add that forward thinking leaders are aware of trends and contemporary changes that help us think futuristically.
- Are culturally sensitive. Surely this is more than respecting people who differ from us or going on occasional mission trips cocooned in groups of naïve Americans. Cultural leadership means taking time and effort to interact and build friendships with people of different cultures and subcultures, understanding their mores and views of leadership, recognizing that leadership needs to be culturally adapted. Notice Paul’s approaches in Acts 17.
- Are teachable. The most effective speakers get to know their audiences. This applies as well to effective leaders, including counselors, pastors and business people who want to relate to their followers or clients. We know that cultures, people and leadership are changing constantly. As a result, long-term leaders need to alter their leadership styles significantly. Surely teachability also includes at least some familiarity with key leadership books, seminars or articles.
- Are compassionate. They care. The people we lead will respond best when we show sensitivity and compassion as well as competence and confidence.
- Are driven by something more. This is some bigger goal or compelling mission that drives leaders forward. I wonder if everybody really has or needs this?
What do you think makes a forward-oriented leader? Please comment.
Professional counseling does not occupy any of my time thee days but that’s where I have most training, where I am licensed by the state, and the subject of much of my writing and teaching. Not surprising, then, Psychotherapy Networker (PT) magazine goes to the top of my reading pile whenever it arrives. The articles on therapy have surprising relevance both for mental health professionals and for non-counselors like many who read this newsletter. The March/April issue addresses an issue that we all could consider profitably: We are older as a discipline, profession or individual. But is there any evidence that we are better? Stated differently, “Do our old ways fit the new times?” The PT answer seems to be “not much.”
- First we need to remember that established methods that have worked for years are not necessarily bad just because they are old.
- At times we all succumb to fads that claim to be revolutionary breakthroughs. (Mindfulness and evidence-based practices are among the most recent.) Therapists aren’t the only ones “succumbing to the allure of novel procedures and fancy theories, particularly those that promise quick and dramatic cures” and changes. In time most fads fade and we rush to something new.
- Despite all our approaches, methods, theories, and training seminars, this conclusion emerges as “one of the most robust research findings in the psychological literature: all therapies…produce the same level of results, regardless of the particular insights they promulgate.”
- “We need to embrace what our research tells us: a professional relationship organized around empathy, genuineness, respect, openness, congruence, collaboration, and goal consensus helps people change.”
- Cultural awareness counts a lot. Mary Piper writes that the main area where “we’re failing right is taking into account the impact of the larger culture on all of us…. The kind of verbal, cognitive, come-and-sit-down-in-an-office [or talk on the telephone or Internet] approach is deeply unsuited to the poor and underserved populations that we’re ignoring.” Overall our work “remains largely a white, upper-middle-class phenomenon.” Often we fail to recognize and understand the growing elderly population or the young emerging generations where we’re not connecting.
- No one of us can connect with everybody but we must not forget that we work and lead in community.
This picture is not limited to mental health professionals. For all of us the question remains. We are getting older but are we getting better? Please comment.
King Saul was not the first person to consult a medium or fortune-teller (1 Samuel 28.) Efforts to predict the future using sorcery and fortune-tellers have been around for centuries and even interest some Christians despite the Bible’s condemnation of these practices. In the church where I grew up, visiting preachers would sometimes conduct prophecy conferences where parts of the Bible, Revelation especially, would be interpreted in ways that seemed to mix biblical exegesis with preacher speculation about current and future events.
Today we take a more secular, quasi-scientific approach. We carefully look at trends in the present and make speculations about how these might play out in the future. Often these predictions are wrong, especially in an era of rapid and unpredictable change. But sometimes we can predict accurately enough to plan ahead wisely. Best example is the predicted development of well-studied diseases. Business magazines and newspapers often give predictions like those in the April 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal where experts made predictions on subjects including small business, the economy, mass marketing, retirement, religion, virtual reality gaming, health care and even sex. Here are three examples that might interest you:
- “The Internet of the future will be everywhere—and the more people who have it, the more important it will become…. Instead of seeking out the Internet, we’ll be surrounded by it. Instead of extracting data from it, we’ll be fed a constant stream of curated, personalized information to help us solve problems and live better.” If we can strike a balance between caution and convenience, the spread of connected devices will have a profound impact on the way we do just about everything.”
- What about books including textbooks and other printed communication? It’s likely that reading will always remain but the format will be different. Future books will be more on electronic screens than on paper, despite the tastes of maybe dwindling numbers of bibliophiles (people who avidly read, collect and/or have a great love for books.)
- Education, especially higher education will survive and thrive but it will continue to change dramatically. Information dumps and the “sage on the stage” will fade further. Teaching methods and models will shift to fit our increasingly digital world. Interaction and on-line activities will increase. Universities that thrive will have no alternative except to do teaching online and offer quality courses. What does this say about long sermons by “talking head” preachers?
Surely you have reactions to this. Please comment.
Have you ever thought about writing a book, starting a business, planting a church, or quitting your day job to try something different? What’s holding you back? Inc magazine (February 2015) notes that “the default state of the human psyche is doubt, fear of failure, and avoidance of regret. For some reason entrepreneurs aren’t wired that way.” But more of us “see risk around every corner.” Fear holds us back so we dream about what might be but we never take action to make things happen. How do we overcome that fear? One Inc columnist writes that the answer is to plan.
That’s way too simplistic. There is no one answer. Planning is valuable. So is goal-setting. But consider these other issues that have a bearing on our ability to overcome fear and do something new or innovative:
- Personality. Do you have a risk-taker mentality or orientation? Some people will resist stepping out regardless of the plan, goal, or potential. Forcing these people (including ourselves) to take risks rarely works.
- People. Some innovators work well alone, but innovation or goal-accomplishment is more likely in those who work with others, have support, or connect with coaches and mentors who give encouragement, and guidance. Have you ever kept going because somebody believed in you?
- Patience and persistence. Inventions and innovative ideas can be slow to develop. Good books, academic theses and doctoral dissertations usually take a long time to write. It takes years to master a musical instrument, acquire a new language, or develop top proficiency in a sport.
- Possibilities. This week I read a book chapter about the role of luck in innovations and success. Malcolm Gladwell, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates all attribute some of their successes to luck. Whether or not you believe in luck (I don’t) it is clear that some success comes from opportunities that arise, the education or environments that we experience, the innate abilities that we inherit, or from being in the right place at the right time. Christians are likely to see the hand of God in all this.
- Prayer. Never underestimate the power of God to guide or provide what we need to innovate.
Business magazines place a high value on innovation. Maybe too high. What if we never innovate or reach goals, but dutifully use what we’ve got to improve the world around us? Is that failure? Please comment.
It is well documented that New Year’s resolutions almost never work to bring lasting change. But what kind of goal setting does work? This week I worked my way through Michael Hyatt’s mini-course on how to set and reach goals successfully. I watched the tapes, did the homework and committed myself to following through with the course recommendations. This course is unlikely to work for everybody since it was designed for “busy, high-achievers.” Time will tell if the course lives up to the advertising hype that accompanies most of what Hyatt produces.
Titled “Five Days to You Best Year Ever,” the course recommends five steps to goal-setting effectiveness:
- Believe it can be done. Probably a lot of goals never get reached because deep inside we expect to fail, sometimes because we’ve tried before and not succeeded. Hyatt calls these “limiting beliefs” such as “I’m too old,” “I can’t do this,” or “I have no idea where to start.”
- Re-evaluate the past. Look over where you failed to reach previous goals. What have you learned from this?” What can you do differently this time?” Remember that you can’t keep doing the same things in the same way and expect different results.
- Set new goals. Force yourself to make them the SMART goals that coaches recommend: Specific, Measurable (so you know when you succeed), Actionable (that means what you will do, not what you hope to become), Realistic, and Time-bound (which means having a deadline). Hyatt adds two more: Exciting, by which he means personally compelling, and Relevant.
- Determine why each goal is worth achieving. Lose sight of this and you will quit more easily.
- Start moving. At some time the planning needs to stop and we need to take at least one action step towards making each goal happen.
All of this useful, practical advice but it assumes that reaching goals is within our control. It bypasses how unexpected life events can hinder even our best goal-oriented activities. Doesn’t God have a place in our goal-setting? At one point Hyatt mentions Jesus, then quickly makes a point that this is not a Bible study. Admittedly this course is geared to secular audiences and that shapes the content. Better perspective: the new year is a good time to plan ahead so long as we remember who ultimately is in control. Any comments?