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If you ask most people to describe The Gathering they will tell you it is a conference. Hopefully, they will also add it is a great conference and one of the things they like the most is being introduced to ministry leaders and speakers whom they have never heard or met. Being a little "ahead of the curve" is one of the attractions. We work hard at keeping that fresh. George Romney said an officer can get so far ahead of the troops that he starts to look like the enemy. We don't want that to happen!
However, there is a downside to discovering new talent and a conversation I had with Stephan Tchividjian from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida this morning gave me a reason to use the coffee break to think about that. Stephan is wise and has been for many years. He grew up among the evangelical "royalty" (he is Billy Graham's grandson) and has somehow avoided the hubris and inflated sense of entitlement that sometimes brings. He has learned from others and has listened to strong people around him. So, when he said a few words about "new talent" I took him seriously. I did not want to interrupt him by writing as he talked so this is a paraphrase.
"We are not doing some of the young men and women any favors by exposing them so quickly to large and adoring crowds. We want them to be young, articulate, impassioned, restless and iconoclastic. What we are in danger of giving up in that is what I call "seasoning". They have not been exposed to failure, hardship, disappointment, serious temptation or long exposure to the complications and frustrations of a local church. They are still in a cocoon and we don't yet know what they will be but we are pulling them out of that cocoon before they are ready. We need to wait for them to become more than great and gifted communicators. In a sense, they need to become illustrations of endurance and not just message makers."
I know he was not indicting anyone in particular. He was just reflecting on what he sees as he looks at the circuit of celebrities making the rounds of all the conferences and wondering, wisely, where they will be. Are they child stars or prodigies or will we allow them to grow and mature and be more than a young celebrity distracted by people like me looking for new talent?Comments
A young friend (against my advice) took a leadership position in a ministry with a history of detached major donors, infighting among the staff, weak executive leadership, a dated mission that is out of touch with the changing demographics of their market, a retired founder who still has influence on Board decisions and a business model that depends almost 90% on a few supporters. Given that this is an organization that charges tuition and fees, that is not a good sign. Come to think of it, are there any good signs at all in this scenario? With just that knowledge, would you take the job?
It depends on where you are in life, I suppose. When I was in my 30's I took a leadership position in just such an organization. They had run off 13 headmasters in 30 years and no one had left without scars on their back. I sometimes imagined them as the author of Hebrews describes the heroes of the faith as "sawn in two...going about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated." One of the board members told me early on, "We were here when you got here and we'll be here when you leave." That was at our first dinner together. He was right, of course. I lasted five years and it was doubtless the most difficult five years of our lives. The stress was inhuman. The conflict was unrelenting. The finances were abysmal and the expectations of the parents could be summed up by, "We don't care if they can read. Can they play football in eighth grade?" A perfect fit!
Now, I look back and realize I learned more about relationships, leadership, politics, power, and the human condition in those five years than I did in the rest of my career as a teacher/administrator. If suffering for Christ purifies us (and it does) then hardship when we are relatively young prepares us for the balance of our lives like nothing else. I was not persecuted for Christ. It was more like I grew up from the person I was when I arrived - and I am grateful for it.
Over the years since then I have spoken at weddings and funerals for these same people and families who came, in time, to be closer to us than we could have imagined. Yes, some of them were there when we got there and still there when we left but we have taken many of them with us in our hearts.
I probably gave my young friend bad advice when I suggested he avoid the mess. He is doing the right thing and I hope he hangs in there long enough to find the same surprising grace.Comments
I had a chance to listen to a ministry founder this morning talk about his struggle with turning loose of the ministry. It’s glib and not really helpful to say, “Let go and let God.” All entrepreneurs are high control. It’s their/our nature. In our desire to make it right we sometimes smother the baby and shut down the people around us.
In the earliest years of The Gathering a Board member saw this in me and told me I needed to let go…but I did not know how. So, that week-end I went to the story of Moses and his mother and found some help. Maybe it will help you.
A few things happen in this story that helped me work through it. First, had the mother kept Moses he would have eventually been found and killed. Her natural desire to hold him close and protect him would have been the cause of his death. As well, had he died he would never have accomplished what God intended. Not that God could not have used someone else but He wanted to use Moses and his mother’s love for him, ironically, was an obstacle to that.
Second, in letting him go she turned him into the hands of a natural enemy who was the only one who could guarantee his survival. Founders feel that way about governance, boards and accountability sometimes. “They” are trying to control the vision. “They” don’t understand the threats to this ministry. “They” want to take it away from me. How will it survive without me?
Third, we don’t learn the name of Moses’ mother and father until several chapters into the story. They are anonymous. Moreover, Jochebed (his mother) is willing to become the nursemaid to her own child instead of what every fiber of her body must have wanted to scream out, “This is my child. I am the mother. He is not yours.” A founder, to truly let go, must make that sacrifice and accept their role as the nursemaid and not the mother. To be anonymous is hard enough but to be content to play such a role is the litmus test.
So, my young friend is off to struggle with those three things and I am looking forward to hearing from him sooner or later.Comments
A young friend (let’s call him Cole from Chattanooga, Tennessee) and I are having a back and forth conversation about the intrinsic value of donors becoming more competent and skilled. While we are in agreement on the value of competence, we are probably on different pages (for now) on how to define that.
The exchange started with our both seeing the difficulty of donors first encountering complexity. They believe (and sometimes ministries encourage this) that a gift to a particular cause will make everything in life better for a child. If we can improve their access to water or health care or education or Bibles then their whole life will improve. Whatever the cause, it tends to claim the key role. After a few years of experience we all know that is not true but how do we explain complexity without discouraging well-intentioned donors? They thought supporting this one organization was going to fix things. I wrote:
“Yes, explaining complexity to funders takes some of the air out of the balloon, doesn’t it? That’s a large part of the appeal of online funding, contests, feed a child for $1/year, drill a well, get a shot, etc. It’s part of what we have tried to explain in a number of sessions at The Gathering. We don’t want funders to “blame” ministries for the complexity of the issues and not delivering neat solutions. Sometimes donors ask for simplicity that just doesn’t exist.”
Cole wrote back: “I agree with you…and I am passionate about helping equip people with “actionable intelligence” and to walk alongside them on the journey. I feel like we are called to excellence and don’t you think the collective bar could be raised by more well-informed, globally aware, and culturally sensitive givers? Professionals (foundation staff) should be able to help principals up their game.”
I wrote back: “Yes, but most people improve their game by playing with their peers who are a few strokes better. We put on Pro-Am events with foundation staff showing the donors how staff play the game. While it’s fun to play with them, it doesn't necessarily raise the level of play.”
We probably agree but I’m not sure how many principals learn from the professionals or how much more the principals want to learn. I think it may be like the relationship between a week-end golfer and a golf coach. The golfer wants to know enough to play with his peers but not go on tour. The coach needs to be clear about how much time and energy the player is willing to commit.
Cole and I will keep this going because his desire to see principals benefit from the knowledge and perspective of professionals is pure and my bias toward peers educating peers is well-ingrained! Still, I heard a phrase today that applies to both of our points of view.
“The gap between knowledge and wisdom is your ability to teach someone else.”
Whether it be the professional or the peer, the ultimate test is our ability to teach someone else. The world of giving needs not just more knowledge or competence. We need wisdom that is capable of teaching someone else.Comments
A friend in Dallas asked me last week, “What’s the reason for megachurches?” That’s an easy one to answer! Since I worked for twelve years with megachurches as President of Leadership Network in what some consider to be the period of largest growth for these churches, I’ve been thinking about his question. Coincidentally, I was with Bob Buford, the founder of Leadership Network, a couple of weeks ago and he told me that while there had been 300 megachurches when we started in 1984 there are now over 3,000 in the United States alone. That’s quite a growth curve.
However, I don’t think my friend was looking for a history lesson as much as a perspective on why we need large churches at all. What makes us grow churches instead of being content with small churches? I started thinking about all the different models we had talked through over those twelve years. For a few years it was the “mall” built on a couple of anchor ministries (worship/music and preaching) with a wide variety of other ministries in between. Later, it was the “big box/category killer” model ala Best Buy or Lowes with hundreds of offerings at commodity prices. Then it was all about small groups – but as many small groups as possible. The form was never fixed but the desire to be big and expanding was a consistent thread. They took whatever form was current and grew it to its limits. Of course, now a new generation is moving church growth toward an Amazon or Facebook model with connecting being the primary value. The pressing challenge is how to use a convening model in a connecting culture.
Some experts say the next generation is not going to value big but I disagree. They may not value a particular model of church but entrepreneurs will always work toward big. It’s in their nature and while the next generation’s “megachurch” will be far different in form than those we witnessed twenty years ago, they will still be big and expanding. They may not invest in buildings or large campuses but whatever form they find they will grow it to the limit and find another. Churches focused on being “missional” will be big missional. Churches focused on small groups will have huge numbers of small groups. Churches focused on investing people and resources outside the country will scale up as fast as they can. It is the nature of the entrepreneur. Trust me on this one.Comments