Nov 262009
 

Today is Thanksgiving 2009 and we all have so very much to be thankful for. There are cliche’s like “counting your blessings” and having an “attitude of gratitude.” And those are good things. And there are even better things.

My journey of finding a more vibrant and thriving life is getting beyond the obligations of what I should do and responsibilities of what I have to do. Life is so much more rewarding when life can be what I want to do and what I love to do. And, all the better when this lines up with what the world needs, and translates into how I can better show love and kindness to people around me.

The power of gratitude and giving thanks is more than something nice to do on this annual holiday. It does a body good!

This short list from a beliefnet blog itemizes some of the distinct benefits of a daily dose of gratitude:

  • Increased joy in the simple things in life.
  • Ability to recover quickly from life’s setbacks and disappointments.
  • Improved relationships – people prefer to be around people who are grateful.
  • Greater physical stamina and energy.
  • Increased happiness and acceptance.
  • Stronger, healthier immune system.

It’s more than making a list and counting it twice. It’s seeing my life, the people around me, and the world, with new eyes. To see more than I can see. To give thanks more. To give more.

Be thankful because it’s good for you. Be thankful because it’s good for the people around you. Be thankful because it’s good for the world.

Jun 092009
 

It all unravels eventually. Whether it’s getting tired of hiding the indiscretion, telling a lie, living a lie. Or, getting caught red-handed.

Another pastor admits an emotional and physical affair. It’s wrong and there are tons of consequences. I think in the information age, with the openness of the Internet, more bad news is known and spreads faster. shattered livesMoral failures have been around before, easier to hide in some sense, though just as devastating. This past weekend, another pastor falls, even more in the public eye because of social media. And the online chatter perculating.

Scott Williams lists 4 Reasons Leaders FAIL, i.e. fake, attitude, integrity, lacking. Geoff Surratt warns pastors of how they’re already toast if they think they aren’t vulnerable. Ron Edmondson adds his thoughts and Todd Rhoades adds his prayer for another fallen servant.

To reiterate, from Why Pastors Fall Into Affairs: “What is it with pastors and affairs? I did a brief search through Google and found all kinds of stories about pastors having affairs with secretaries, the wives of other ministers, and who knows who else. … Curiously, many pastors fall into affairs when their ministries grow. Success has a way of turning on its master. … Of course we’re not big fans of learning from our mistakes. … I know if I started pastoring a church tomorrow I’d say to myself, “Those other guys fell, but not me. I’m going to be fine.”

Pastors know what they’re supposed to do. They teach it and preach it. And the inevitable stresses of ministry will come (or never goes away, in many cases). Pastoring the most stressful job I can think of. Sometimes the church is overly successful. The stresses of marriage and family life will show up too — nobody has a perfectly easy marriage. And there’s always someone of the opposite sex who is more attractive to the average red-blooded male. I’m one, so I know what I’m talking about (tongue in cheek.) Plus there’s the spiritual realm too. Pastors have a red bulls-eye on their back, constantly in the cross-hairs of Satan’s destructive schemes.

My own thinking is that keeping precautions and rules won’t guarantee moral & marital purity. Rules don’t change the heart. From my vantage point, I’m of the opinion that high-capacity leaders tend to be task-oriented, and not as relationally-oriented. Task-orientation is what makes them that much more effective, but it’s also is the achilles’ heel, because there’s going to be the tendency of not spending enough time in close relationships with a few trusted others — especially in transparent vulnerable friendships where they are fully known. If friends knew the struggles and temptations in the heart & soul of a leader, especially in this area of temptation, then a leader doesn’t have to bear it all by himself. It’s true that leadership is lonely at the top, and the higher you go, the lonelier it gets. No one will understand what the leader is going thru. Partly true. Others don’t have to understand, but others can know. At least get a professional counselor to relieve the stress that mere rest and sports will not.
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May 042009
 

I’ve just finished reading the new bookThe Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah titled, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Rah reviews the biases in American history that have now been institutionalized not just in mainstream culture, but also unknowingly embedded in evangelical churches and evangelical theologies. (cf. here’s a video of me reading the book’s acknowledgements and introduction)

I consider Rah’s effort to be a great companion to a couple of other books I’ve recently read, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (by Shane Hipps, cf. the newer title Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith has very similar content, I’ve heard) and The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (by Skye Jethani).

The above 3 books make a valiant effort at cultural deconstruction and show just how greatly our mainstream American culture has been influenced by theology, technology, and consumerism. And not only that, the typical American evangelical church has been embedded with values that do not represent the Gospel well. To quote Tim Keller, “Every culture is dominated by idols that is not dominated by the glory of Christ.

Sadly, in too many contexts, it is not safe to ask questions of our church culture and its embedded values. And even if those questions were to be asked, and discussed, to actually create change and transform an institution like the church is seemingly impossible.

So these (almost) prophetic truths are great to surface, expose, and discuss. Yet, could it be that we in the American church has been too enamoured with pragmatic results in church growth and evangelistic zeal? Could it be that by upholding values of excellence, efficiency, and effectiveness, we have lost sight of the more obviously Bibical values of justice, dignity, and diversity — God’s love of the whole world?

Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism has much more to say, and as others join the online conversation of the blogosphere, I’ll add more of my reactions to the book. [update 5/8 great discussion about Rah's book over at julieclawson.com, including comments from the author; cf. Greg Boyd's review "Only WHITE American Christianity Is Dying"; book review at Theological Grafitti; Soong-Chan Rah's blog is http://scrah.xanga.com]
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Mar 262009
 

pic_qja_mWhile in Austin last week for SXSW 2009, I enjoyed great food and good conversations at Galaxy Cafe. All 4 of us happened to order French Toast, unbeknownst to each other; Gideon Tsang, Paul Wang, Sam Lee, and me. The 3 of them are connected to Vox Veniae, an incarnational missional community in East Austin.

One of the conversations that came up was the health of the American church. Gideon asked if it was healthy or unhealthy, referring to large “big box” churches in the United States. In retrospect, I thought that was an unfair dichotomy, and I emailed back this addendum:

djchuang >> To elaborate on the question re: large churches being healthy or unhealthy– I’d add that size is not a determinent of whether an organized church is healthy or not.

Part of the social dynamics in the real world we live in, is power dynamics, personal and institutional. Given that there is power to be stewarded, would it not be better that followers of Christ steward that power than unfollowers? It can certainly be stewarded differently than how some of the spotlight churches are doing it, and that also be a good thing to explore– how can a large big box church be an advocate and champion for the marginalized, the orphans, the widows, the poor, the hungry.

pic of Gid and SamThen, Gideon Tsang replied back (note: these are just initial reactions, not well-formulated thoughts) :

I agree that size is not a determinant to health. I also agree that when power is given it needs to be stewarded with shrewdness.

However, what I disagree with is American Christianity’s addiction to, longing for and blatant uplifting (through conferences and growth organizations) of power and size. In American Christian culture there’s a trickle down paradigm (similar to right wing financial politics) that’s being sold to church leaders where if we can rise to the top as Christians and influence at places of power, then we’ll impact more people and in the end change the entire culture.

This in itself, is not logically flawed, but problematic for several reasons: (1.) money and power are not neutral. (2.) the paradox of the gospel.

The Kingdom of God is different than the Kingdom of America where we are called to be the last and the least. These should be our goals, not power and influence. Humility and grace, are the paradoxical forces that change human hearts. Centuries after Christ, the American church is still asking to sit at the right hand of the father. Those are the wrong questions and the wrong goals.

If the American church could detox from power and influence (and the toxic christian sub-culture we’ve created) and develop local, indigenous and sustainable communities, gracefully, humbly loving our neighbors and neighborhoods in the name of Christ, the power of the church will be subtly unleashed.

Regarding Big Box Churches (Walmart Churches) I could go on a lengthy discussion about how they’re taking other’s wineskins, thus removing life and character from faith (much like big box stores do to cities) how they require and exponentially more resources that are not sustainable (that’s why all these churches leave the city to build their walmart churches on large plots of land in the suburbs, using more energy, requiring people to drive further) and how they’re bad for local churches …

What would you add to this conversation about power and the American church? What kind of “carbon” footprint is the church leaving behind? Should the church be concerned for how it wields and stewards its power?

[The email thread above is posted with permission.]

Nov 102008
 

Leadership is big business. There’s over 3,200 products tagged “leadership” on amazon.com. This leadership industry of selling goods and services shows there’s tons of interest in leadership development amidst organizations of all kinds: government, business, corporations, non-profits, ministries, churches, et al.

Since leadership development has become a big part of my work life via L2 Foundation and Leadership Network, I’ve found basically 5 ways (programs, methods) to train and develop leaders:
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