Archives For December 2012

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December 17, 2012 — 2 Comments

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOur colors are showing again. Even in the midst of our national mourning, we are flying our flags. Red or blue; for gun control or against gun control. Everybody seems to have an opinion and many are proudly proclaiming it on Facebook and Twitter and a whole host of other media outlets. Some insist that since we took prayer out of schools we should expect the sort of tragedy we experienced last week. Others claim that it’s not just that we have taken prayer out of our schools, but that we have taken God out of the public arena and even out of our collective lives. Still others see no such connection but recognize this event as a clarion call for gun control.

It bothers me greatly that even before we have a chance to grieve the terrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we are lining up to verbally gun down one another, firing our arguments at others with little sense of mutual respect. Its US against THEM; winner take all.

On Saturday after the shooting in Newtown I tweeted, “Perhaps the best response to this shooting tragedy might be to ask, “What will I do to make the world a better place?” My thought was that most of us can do little to help in Newtown, but there are things we all can do in our own community to heal hurts and make life better for others. Almost immediately someone replied to my tweet, “How about Gun RIGHTS people throwing ALL Gun Control people OFF a cliff!”

Wow! I thought. Where did that come from? What has happened to the public square? What has happened to respectful discussion of issues that effect us all? What has happened to common civility?

I’d like to think that we Christians are not guilty of this uncivil discourse, but I see too many people who claim to be followers of Christ who engage in a very uncivil form of “debate.”

Issues like homosexuality, abortion, fiscal cliffs, and gun-control are difficult issues. But it seems to me that progress in our discussions is most likely to be made when the parties have genuine respect for one another and refuse to demonize those with differing opinions.

I personally would like to see a national discussion regarding our use of guns in this country. My own opinion is that it could be beneficial to make owning certain guns more difficult. I don’t see any reason for a typical citizen to own an assault weapon. That’s MY opinion. But I don’t demonize those who think differently.

Perhaps we could highly train two or three teachers or administrators in our schools and give them access to a defensive weapon. Perhaps we all could be more sensitive to individuals in our sphere of influence who feel lonely and alienated, the kind who usually commit mass killings. Surely we can do more to address violence and mental illness in the greatest country in the world.

I don’t have the answers but I think we should invest more effort into finding some answers. Of course, there will always be people who commit atrocities, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to prevent them. We have lots of problems in our society that need addressing. This and other important issues require CIVIL discussion and mutual respect. Not to take anything away from the terrible tragedy in Newtown, but  I wonder if uncivil demonizing of others is not a deeper, more important cultural issue for us than what happened in Newtown?

One of my favorite stories is about a man who visited a machine oil factory. The owner of the factory proudly took the man around and showed him the impressive process. It was quite an operation. At the end of the tour the man asked the owner of the plant, “Where is the shipping department?”
“Oh, we don’t have a shipping department,” he replied. “We use all our oil to run the factory.”

I have recalled that story many times over the years. It is so easy for us to spend almost all of our energy in the church on institutional maintenance and have little left to carry out mission and ministry. It is so easy to focus on ourselves and forget that God sends us into the world to make disciples. He commands us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
It is vitally important for Christians to study the scripture together. Sunday School classes, Bible courses, and home cell groups help us grow in our knowledge of God. But these are not the “end.” They are the “means to the end.” The book of James warns us, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (James 1:22). I like the way this is translated in The Message New Testament. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!”
Søren Kierkegaard, the famous philosopher once told a parable about some ducks from an imaginary  “duck country.” Every Sunday the ducks would waddle to church, walk down the aisle, and squat in the pews. The duck pastor would read from the duck bible: “Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the skies! Ducks! You have wings!” With wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go, nothing they could not accomplish.
The ducks would respond to the pastor’s sermon with a hearty “Amen!” But when church was over, they waddled home. Not a single duck would fly.
Kierkegaard told this parable about the Denmark church of his day. A church that had lost its passion for the gospel. A church that had largely forgotten its mission. I wonder what this great Danish Christian philosopher would say about the modern church in America?

The mission of the church is to make mature disciples of Jesus Christ. How would describe the churches effectiveness?


Using Teaching, Training, Coaching, Mentoring, and Accountability Partners

I recently watched a series on the history channel called “The Men Who Built America.” This was the story of the rapid industrial development in this country after the Civil War. It recalls the amazing contributions of key men that developed significant industries such as oil, steel, and automobiles. It was the story of men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. But what caught my eye was the role that mentors played in the development of these men. My father was mentored by his father-in-law. Other pastors were extremely important in my formation.

Over the years the question of how Christian disciples are made has plagued me. If the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world, as the mission statement of my denomination declares, then the question of how this is done should be paramount. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a seminary course or workshop that has actually taught me how to “make” a disciple.

I began my journey as a pastor with the assumption that I could “lead a person to Christ’ and “get them saved” by convincing them of certain theological truths taught in the Bible. However, over the years I saw many people make professions of faith with no real change in behavior other than possible church attendance. But it became evident to me that Billy Sunday was right: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

I’ve written before about my experience with a Celebrate Recovery ministry based on the twelve steps. I’ve also observed the life-transforming work of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs. I’ve come to understand that the real power in those programs is the mentoring and coaching done by the “sponsor.”

In the church we have primarily depended on teaching and preaching to transform lives. But experience shows that these are just about the most ineffective ways to bring about real change in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Research repeatedly shows that supplementing the teaching process with coaching/mentoring, results in much better outcomes. For example, a study by Joyce and Showers in 1995 about teacher training revealed that “when coaching accompanies training, teachers transfer 80-90 percent of what they learn into the classroom, compared to only 5-10 percent with training alone.”

Traditional teaching in a classroom, when done well, can be great at conveying facts, figures, theories, and concepts. Training usually deals with the application of knowledge. However, training typically deals with the “how to” of the application but does nothing to motivate or encourage one to act on the knowledge. Teaching is an educational process; training is usually a vocational process.  But what happens when the individual is not motivated, or becomes discouraged, or becomes overwhelmed or confused?

A teacher passes on knowledge and explains how things are or should be. A trainer helps one master certain skills. A coach or mentor comes along beside an individual once she or he has made a commitment to change some behavior or accomplish some task. The coach/mentor doesn’t “tell you things” so much as they ask you questions to help you make your own decisions in order to accomplish your goals. A good coach will help an individual think through what he or she really wants to accomplish and how to achieve it. This process can take several different approaches. Coaches and mentors are not exactly the same thing. Accountability partners are another important way the process can work.

Preaching and teaching can be effective ways to bring an individual to a point of decision. Many people have been led in these ways to make a commitment to follow Christ. Where the church has failed is by somehow thinking this was the end of the disciple-making journey. A “decision” for Christ is only a decision to begin the process; it’s not the end of the process. To continue the journey and make effective followers of Jesus Christ, the church needs to use more effective transforming tools. We need to make coaching, mentoring, and accountability partners a vital part of our strategy.