Two Sides of a Coin

I am still grabbed by a story I heard while at ECFC earlier this month.

I went to find one of my heroes and former pastors, Ted Olbrich, who now serves as the foursquare missionary to Cambodia. I wanted to tell him how I recently read Leading Across Cultures by James R. Plueddemann. In this book, the former director of SIM (Serving in Missions formerly Sudan Interior Mission) and professor at Trinity’s Intercultural program stated that he finds farmers make the best missionaries. Plueddemann brought out this claim after talking about the difficult balance missionaries have to juggle between planning and preparation against waiting and ambiguity. Westerners love to think they can manipulate outcomes with excellent planning and forethought. Many in the rest of the world think we are foolish in trying to predict the future. Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is always there somewhere in the middle isn’t it. Right there where we left it before taking sides on an argument.

As Westerners, we love to plan and manipulate outcomes. However, much of the rest of the world lives comfortably in ambiguity with an understanding that we cannot predict the future. Plueddemann noted how farmers live in that balance of planning for the harvest while preparing for adjustments, unexpected and big changes that come to a crop.

My former pastor grew up on the farm. Maybe this is why he thrives in a country like Cambodia as the Foursquare church in that nation continues to be the world’s fastest growing church. The hindrances, corruption, and spiritual warfare that they navigate keep one nimble on that balance beam of strategy and sensitivity to the Spirit.

Here’s the story:

When I talked to Ted about this observation by a former mission’s executive, he said, It’s like that old story…let me say, he is chalk full of those old stories. He has more metaphors than a lady at the Kentucky Derby has hats.

His old story this time talked about the man from the East and the Man from the West who thought they saw a side of a coin. They argued over which side of the coin was more correct. However, as they got closer and closer they realized that was not a coin after all. In fact, as they came right up to it, they saw that it was in fact a ball. The reality Ted told me was that we have to have an integrated view of being spirit led and having strategy. Both have their place. We just need to know when to use which.

Do you find yourself wanting to map out the future or take it as it comes?

What a Leader Looks Like

I walked away from lunch with a great picture of what leadership can look like. These conversations often produce gold on the side with little unexpected tangents as we sit and talk with great friends gathered in Sri Lanka for an international meeting with the foursquare leaders in Asia last week.

These leaders gathered for the ECFC conference, that is the Eastern Council of Foursquare Churches. These meetings are so colorful, passionate and spirit empowered as they gather every other year for prayer and enrichment. It was great to be at the ECFC conference again. Some of my heroes in the faith lead churches in these 30 nations represented in this meeting from Asia and the South Pacific. This wonderful collage of all these nations gathered together and seeing good friends again.

One of these good friends also happens to be one of my favorite mentors who I happened to catch for lunch. We sat down and discussed missiology, ministry and how we were doing. In this conversation, my mentor told me how that night’s speaker explained leadership. Rather than doing what us Americans often do wrong in implementing American leadership that follows the CEO model and looks very foreign in most of the world, to look at leadership differently. He used the picture of a father.

Leading like a father transcends culture, he explained. As he continued, he said that a leader does not have to be old or in certain position as long as he leads like a father or with the heart of a father. All peoples can catch that kind of leadership and be willing to go with that.

Truly, I can say in a culture like Thailand, people see their leaders like a father. If someone is having a difficulty or hardship, the leader goes out of his way to help these people. The leader sacrifices and leads out of relationship in such a deeper way than can easily be sensed at first.

I wonder how much more impact can be made worldwide when we see leadership through the lens of a father, a good father who wants to see the best in his children.

Do you have any word pictures that help you see leadership that transcends context or circumstances of an organization or group?

Missional Vs. Attractional 6

Balance and tension are two keys in the discussion of attractional and missional ministry. Too often we get stuck defending a point of view and fight for one way at the expense of seeing the other side may have a valid point as well. Invariably we paint an extreme portrait of the other side to make our side look better. Yet, Jesus had a way about him that caused his critics, and hopefully us, to pause and moment and hold our positions loosely.

If we paint with a broad brush the missional view or the attractional view, neither looks so great, but if we hold them in tension and walk a balance of both as we in the church touch this world at all corners, we can begin to see dynamic things happen around us. Jesus, the ultimate in paradox, used missional and attractional approaches from the beginning as he called his disciples.

Let’s dive into how Jesus held in tension missional and attractional in how he called the apostles. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), but he couldn’t leave until the future of God’s people was in good hands. And if the real crux of the argument has little to do with missional or attractional but with discipleship, let’s take a gander at how Jesus connected with these disciples in which hands he left the future of God’s mission.

We don’t know all of their stories, and some have more drama than others. Some Jesus found and called, like Phillip (John 1:43), while others came from a third way after John the Baptist pointed him out. One of those, Andrew, grabbed his brother Peter and connected him with Jesus (John 1:37-42). Still there are two narratives from the disciples first connecting with Jesus that can help us balance our view of missional or attractional, and these are stories of Nathanael and Matthew.

Nathanael embodies the classic seeker or attractional philosophy of ministry. This type of church builds a ministry around Phillips answer to Nate’s skepticism when he first hears that his buddy Phillip has found the one they have all been waiting for. The messiah is here, and sheepishly Phillip adds that the son of David hails from Nazareth. Raising an eyebrow, Nate asks, can anything good come from that place? The classic cynic has put his friend off and now feels that he can go about his day with no more of this messiah nonsense being talked about. That is until Phil lays on him the epic line, “come and see”. John lays out a great description

Nathanael encountered Jesus and forever was changed. In Thailand, the Thai people refer to coming to faith as literally knowing God. Before they did not know him, but now they do. At some point along their journey to faith, they encounter God either through answered prayers, miracles, or a feeling of his presence with them.

If Nathanael came to Jesus, because his friend somehow attracted him enough to check him out, another guy connected with Jesus in quite the opposite way.

Matthew, reviled in his community for his chosen profession of greed, becomes a great antihero as Jesus sees beyond his flaws and calls the tax-collector to follow him. The Jewish people despised these Cretans as the lowest of the low for selling out their countrymen as they chase the almighty dollar…oh I mean denarius. They worked for the evil empire of Rome and were characterized by their pure greed and manipulation. Now enter Jesus. Rather than avoiding the tax-collectors booth, Jesus walks boldly up to the swarthy extortioner and calls him out of his current lifestyle into a new way of life (Luke 5:27-29).

Jesus captures something that we all could practice a little better, and let me add a big thank you to our Lord for this one. Jesus has an ability to see us for whom we can become and not limited to who we have been. A reputation matters, but with Jesus, we can have a golden opportunity to start again.

As we serve in ministry, some of our best disciples will seek us out as they learn about who we are, while others must be found. We often like to look at the cream of the crop from each year’s Bible College grads to find the next person to mentor, but maybe our future reside in our community. All we need to do is start seeing them how Jesus does.

Being Wrong in the Right Way

One principle I learned in my recent class on Intercultural Communication with Dr. Scott Moreau dealt with the process of decision making for cross cultural workers. He said this at the beginning of class, and it stuck with me through the whole intensive a couple of weeks ago.

The wrong decision implemented in the right way can build trust while the right decision implemented in the wrong way can lose trust.

In the West, we are often overly concerned with the idea of being right. The concern rarely deals with how we process change or visionary decisions. In the end being right will vindicate us with our followers if we process poorly. When new vision comes down the pipelines, and we send the orders down the line in the church to work the new plan, we better hope we came up with the right plan. Meanwhile, even in this process of top down or whatever unhealthy process a church has, trust within the community can falter even under right decisions. Cracks will emerge within the framework of credibility as people wonder why these decisions are being implemented in a way that causes skepticism.

On the other hand, when a decision is processed in a healthy, culturally sensitive way, even if it is the wrong decision, people’s trust of the leader grows. Unless they are always coming up with bad ideas, the people realize that once in awhile we’ll make a mistake as leaders. But they trust our process and expect that most of the time we can make the right decision.

In Thailand, I think of our plan to start the church out of our home.

We began having meetings and working with our team. After a couple of months, we butted up against a problem. The university students found it difficult to get to our home. Why? It was convenient and near popular cross streets.

We worked with our team and shared the vision that after a little traction in our new community from starting Bible studies at our home, we would begin looking for a new meeting space. Nonetheless, many believed that we were starting a house church. They didn’t see beyond what we were doing at the moment, because the house church in Thailand carries different connotations. It becomes very ingrown upfront, because new people rarely go to a house of someone who is not a close friend.

Our Thai teacher began explaining to us after many weeks of us not having many university students coming to our place. The Thai culture builds upon one major motif, grain jai. This means that everything must be balanced, and one person will not receive from another something that they feel puts them out. Anything that one person receives, they need to at another time pay back to maintain the equilibrium between their relationships. We realized that the reason we heard that homes are difficult to have meetings or start small groups came back to this issue of grain jai. People were shy to come to our house and not have a way to reciprocate to us.

Even as we stumbled into a wrong decision, the people working with us saw that we worked with them in coming up with the decision. They may have known in the beginning that we were making a poor decision, but they appreciated the process in which we leaned on them for advice and processed with them. We made an easy transition to having additional small group meetings in a local marketplace in a restaurant. We kept our home for the core and now work at building additional small groups while we look for a space to hold regular meetings for.

Can you think of a time when you made a wrong decision, but the trust of your team and people grew in the process?

A Leadership Parable

I want to share a great folk tale from Thailand with implications on leadership. Thai parents tell their children this story to teach them the right way to lead.

Once upon a time a ferocious wind named Saladon met a gentle breeze named Pattaya. The two started talking and the blustery loudmouth, Saladon, declared he could do anything he wanted as he was such a strong wind. Everyone gets out of his way and does what he wants. Saladon went on to say he takes care of business with his mighty strength and sheer force of willpower.

Pattaya replied in wonderment, I am not a strong wind like you, because I choose to refreshing and gentle. I don’t like to use all of my strength. To which, Saladon retorted, why would you do that? Why would you choose to be weak?

Pattaya calmly responded, I get what I want.

However, Saladon wasn’t satisfied, he proclaimed, he could get anything and do anything he wanted, and urged his new friend to be more assertive.

Pattaya thought for a moment not convinced that Saladon’s approach was ideal. Then Pattaya got an idea. The smoothed ocean breeze came up with a challenge for Saladon.

He asked, you can do anything, right?

Saladon replied, of course.

Anything? Because I am thinking of one thing that might be difficult for you.

Yes, Anything, Saladon angrily said as his voice began to rise.

Pattaya kept pouring gas on the fire and stirred up Saladon. Well, I have this one thing that might challenge your claims.

Saladon said, whatever it is, I can do it.

Ummm, I am not sure I want to tell you, because I don’t want you to say no if you can’t do it, Pattaya said.

Now, a fuming Saladon insisted he could do it no matter what it was.

Pattaya then gave the challenge. He pointed out the monkeys that love to climb the trees in the jungle along the beaches. He challenged Saladon to make the monkeys get out of the trees. Saladon confidently  took the challenge.

He thought this was easy as he was all worked up and ready to go. He gathered all of his force and began to whirl a wind so strong the trees began to blow. Leaves blew off the trees and the scared monkeys grabbed onto the trees with all their might. They held on not knowing what else to do. Saladon was just getting started when he began blowing with as much fury as he could. The trees began to bend sideways, but the monkeys kept holding on as tight as they were afraid to let go and fall to the ground.

Saladon blew his mighty wind as long as he could, but after about thirty minutes of frantic wind gusts, the monkeys still clung to the trees.

Pattaya cracked a sly smile across his face. Saladon not wanting to admit his shortcoming said if I can’t do that, there is no way a small wind like you could get them out of the trees. With a small smile still across his face and now a twinkle in his eye, Pattaya said it’s my turn.

When the warm, soft breeze blew across the faces of the monkeys, they began to feel more comfortable and relaxed. Pattaya kept blowing gently and bringing the afternoon breeze in from the shore. The monkeys thought they were getting so relaxed, so they decided to climb down and curl up for a nap.

Pattaya won the challenge and showed that he could get as much done and more with his style of wind. Saladon stormed off in a huff.

And when the parents tell their children the story, they explain that good leaders get more done by being gentle and compassionate.