Your Greatest Strength is….

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We do a number of tests at our counseling center. We have partners in our work who are psychometricians, but we generally have little to do with tests that are built around DSM-V.  We tend to focus on tests that are more valuable in pastoral counseling, and ones that lead more towards conversation than formal diagnosis. Nevertheless, tests are often seen as valuable for self-awareness and making changes for the future. But what changes?

We like to do some simple tests in terms of relationships, conflict management, personality types, and leadership style. Most of these don’t measure linearly a certain pathological quality. Most of these look at categories that have both good and bad aspects to them. So if one looks at personality type tests such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, the presumption is that each type has strengths as well as weaknesses, and that the world is ultimately a better place because of the diversity of types found in society.

So what do you do with this information?  Here are three possibilities.

  1.  Work to Your Strengths. When a person takes a vocational aptitude test, or perhaps one in “spiritual giftings” or spiritual temperaments, one is often instructed that the strengths should guide one in what to focus on in terms of job, ministry, and self-growth. It kind of makes sense. If one is good in math and science, then one’s career should probably be one that utilizes and hones this aptitude.
  2. Work on Your Weaknesses. This takes a more holistic view, and can apply to certain types of tests. With NCD (natural church development) the theory is that the weakest area of a church is the limiter to growth. Focusing on strengths will do little. For humans, we may be healthy physically, psychoemotionally, and spiritually, but weak in terms of socialization (for example). To be a healthy human being, we should be healthy in all of these aspects, and so working on socialization is important.

I would like to add a third perspective.

YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH… IS YOUR GREATEST TEMPTATION

One could argue that this is a bit of a mix of the previous two. It addresses the fact that strengths are important and need to be directly acknowledged and worked on. It addresses the fact that weaknesses are also important in that over-reliance on strengths may ultimately prove harmful.

By what do I mean by the statement “Your greatest strength is your greatest temptation?”  I will start with a personal example. I am an analytic type. Being the administrator of a counseling center, I would like to say, “I minister to papers so that others can minister to people.” This was a similar view that I had when we were organizing medical missions events. While the three Rs (Reading, ‘Riting,’ and Research) may be my strength (Paperwork over People), I allowed that side to dominate my activity. I avoided dealing with people and doing counseling, and focused on activities that involve being in front of a computer (like now).

But I had to grow. Growing wasn’t to focus on my strengths, allowing areas of weakness to languish more and more. At the same time, neither was it ignoring my strengths to focus on my weaknesses. I looked at my strengths as important, but also a temptation to be unbalanced. To embrace balance I value my strengths but be careful not to focus too much on these strengths alone, but invest time and energy in my weaknesses as well.

This perspective has importance of other areas as well.

  • Consider the Love Language test. It seeks to demonstrate what is one’s primary way in which one identifies love in self and others. The five are:  Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Your primary “love language” tells you how you best identify loving behavior of others and how you generally show love to others. None of these are wrong. In fact, all of them have value… at times. The problem is that in relationships one may find that the two may have very different love languages. So one really needs to become love “bilingual.” This neither rejects one’s strength, nor fully embraces it. Additionally, in a work environment, physical touch or quality time may not always be helpful or practical to encourage employees. One may need to learn to value words of affirmation, for example. One’s strength is neither good, nor bad… but it can be a temptation.
  • Consider Conflict Management. There are different strategies for addressing conflict. Some may typically work better than others, but all work okay in certain situations. Sometimes combating is best while at other times compromising, collaborating, acquiescing, or even avoiding may be the most successful. The issue is not which one is best, but the risk of utilizing one’s preferred method indiscriminantly. It is good to be good at what one is good at (a truism certainly) but being good in one area may tempt one to use it at inappropriate times.
  • Ministry. We teach chaplaincy (CPE) at our counseling center. We teach seminarians how to utilize basic pastoral care skills to provide care for those in the hospital (and other settings). But often trainees fall into temptation and utilize their own strengths inappropriate. We had a trainee from a Charismatic Christian background who would go around praying over the dying and declaring them healed. (This was problematic to deal with when the patient would die— giving false hope and confusion for the family.) Another from an Evangelical background, would start out trying to do pastoral counseling and active listening, and then quickly drop into a canned evangelistic routine. (I can assure you that having a chaplain talking to a sick person who is undergoing diagnostic testing is not being helped if the chaplain suddenly says, “So where do you think you will be if you die tonight?”) We have had nurses take chaplaincy, and they struggle to avoid focusing on medical symptoms and giving medical advice.

Learning one’s strengths can be useful… but only if one learns how to utilize that knowledge.

Unfriendly Media as God’s Instrument

For years it was happening to THEM. THEY were in the spotlight, not US. But things change… and it is about time.

For years the Catholic Church has taken a lot Image result for political cover-upof hits for cases of priests taking sexual advantage of parishioners… especially (but not exclusively) young ones.  I must be honest that I have heard some from the Evangelical tradition revel in these stories. Multiple times I have given the warning about this sort of “schadenfreude”:

“Be careful about embracing this attitude. We know that we have problems as well. Right now the cameras and microphones are all pointed at the Catholic Church, but one day they will swing around and point at us. We should be found doing a better job than they.”

But we haven’t done a better job. We still tend follow the age-old practice:

  • We don’t hold leaders accountable.  “Aren’t they Men of God?”
  • When leaders sin, we cover it up. “We aren’t supposed to bring our hand against ‘God’s annointed,’ right?”
  • When cover up is impossible, go to witchhunt mode to identify and punish a scapegoat. In so doing, the system and overall leadership are shielded from responsibility and need for change.

And then the situation repeats. It reminds me of a cartoon (I really wish I could remember the context) where a bad and expected thing happens to someone being careless, followed by a panel showing that same person expressing relief, “I’m sure glad that will never happen again!” while making no changes to his behavior.

I actually think it is this pattern that makes the church look schizophrenic at times. They treat sinners as saints at times and then treat them as demons at other times. It is hard to effectively create wise and rehabilitative Christian discipline when we keep yielding to the desire to either cover-up or witchhunt.

Eventually, the media comes in and starts digging around. In the US, some digging into the sexual abuse in the Southern Baptists (my denomination) and in a number of missions organizations have come to light.

There has been positive signs of response in recent years as some leaders have owned up. Still, there seems to be a couple of responses that are still quite troubling:

  • Church members still often yield to the temptation to sympathize with those in power over the powerless. (Since this happens in politics as well, I have to assume this is a sociological malady, rather than one merely linked to churches. In High School, there appears to be a “natural” temptation to blame the one who “rats out” the bully, rather than blame the bully in the first place.)
  • Church members (and political folk) tend to blame the media for unfavorable portrayals of their church or political party.

On this latter point, media is blamed as portraying “fake news” even though commonly it is not fake— they simply don’t like the spin. Sadly, these Christians have no issue with “spin.” In fact, many love spin as long as the news spins their own way. When it doesn’t spin their way, they blame the media as opposing God’s work— demonizing the institution or at least the specific broadcaster.

But here is a different thought.    <Clearing my throat for a minute.>

What if news media who criticize abuse and other sinful behavior in the church are actually serving God?

This should hardly shock anyone. After all, many Christians, and many Christian leaders will say that “God is my judge,” meaning that they do not feel that they are answerable to anyone else. But if God is judge, what methods might God use to execute judgment? If the church does not embrace its role to critique and hold people accountable, then God must look outside of the church to do that.

This brings up a second, perhaps more troubling, thought.

What if “friendly” news media, including so-called “Christian News” is then on the side of ‘darkness’?

After all, if God is looking to hold the church accountable, then institutions that cover up the failings of the church, pandering to the messages that the church members want to hear while failing to carry out its God-given role to hold the church accountable, are simply not on God’s side.

If this is the case, and it seems pretty evident to me at least that this is exactly what is happening, are we willing to say, “Thank God for news media who shine a light on our failings and hold us accountable!”?

A recent article by Craig Thompson points out the situation with Evangelical missions. Click on the title if you wish to read it:

Their Abuse Happened over 25 Years Ago, So Why Were Those MKs Still Talking about It on the Today Show?

Loving Gridlock in Government and Ministry

Image result for gridlock

A political election is coming up in the US this November. They are a challenge for me because my friends come from a wide variety of perspectives. I sometimes find myself siding with one side and sometimes with the other, but never consistently with either side. The reason for this is that “I Love Gridlock.” I suppose it depends on how one defines it. One definition comes your friend and mine, Wikipedia. It says,

In politics, gridlock or deadlock or political stalemate refers to a situation when there is difficulty passing laws that satisfy the needs of the people. … Gridlock can occur when two legislative houses, or the executive branch and the legislature are controlled by different political parties, or otherwise cannot agree.
As an American myself, my friends almost universally hate gridlock. This is strange since it seems pretty evident that the US Constitution was designed to encourage gridlock, as opposed to the classic parliamentary system.
So why would I like gridlock? I like it in government and in ministry for several reasons.
1.  It slows things down. I have been part of groups… in fact I have led groups… where decisions were made fast or even “on the fly.” I often loved that. However, over time I realized that issues that were struggled over were often resolved better than ones that were thoughtlessly approved, or “railroaded” through.
2.  It encourages negotiation. When there is one or more people with all of the power, there is little discussion. Things just happen. I have been in church or religious organizations that were led by one visionary person who made all of the decisions. I have never seen that work out well. No one is right all of the time. Most are not right half of the time.   Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” However, when the advisers are more than simply “idea guys” but have a vote in the process, they are likely to have better thought-out decisions, and the leadership can’t simply ignore such advice and act on personal whims.
3.  It allows all parties to feel empowered, or at least jointly disempowered. Solomon may have been the “wisest man” (in terms of governance at least), and made some really awesome decisions for the short-term prosperity of Israel. However, he also made some decisions that were KEY to civil war and moral breakdown of his country. It is interesting that one of the things he did was to crush gridlock by establishing a structure for governance that undermined tribal leadership. It is hardly surprising that when Solomon’s untrained son took over, the tribal leadership that had their interests steamrolled in the past, flexed their political muscles and split the nation.
4.  It lessens groups from acting on their baser instincts. In some countries, when one political party or political leader gains ascendancy, they quickly seek to consolidate power by outlawing or at least hobbling all dissent. Even where this is not done legally, laws are commonly passed that give more power to the majority and stick it to the minority— or benefit their primary (financial) supporters.
5.  It shares power. People in government and in ministry commonly don’t handle power well.  Although it has almost become a cliche, John Dalberg-Acton’s words are still true: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Diffusion of power is better than its localization.
So does that mean that I actually like the phenomenon where lawmaking slows to almost a standstill because of power struggle and rivalries? Somewhat. Laws and plans should be slow… and probably should be developed slower than anyone is particularly comfortable with. However, my main reason for supporting gridlock is that it shares power, and provides impetus for negotiation, compromise, and consensus-building. If those involved cannot “play nicely together in the same sandbox” and work together for the common good of the organization or nation, they simply need to be replaced. That seems like that should be obvious. We don’t vote for ideologues or demagogues but with people moral vision and the humility to understand that they must work together with others, even people they disagree with.
Hoping you will have the opportunity to experience gridlock in your own ministry or organization (whether you like it or not).
I will end this post with a wonderful quote on power and leadership from Monty Python. Enjoy.
We would like to apologise for the way in which politicians are represented in this programme. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent, nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend that viewers should consider them as crabby ulcerous little self seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive. We are sorry if this impression has come across.

Thoughts on Joshua 24:31

I was listening to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast (CNLP 134) interviewing Carl George and Warren Bird. One statement struck me and then I lost the train of the interview as I mulled on that. My internal monologue/dialogue tends to be louder than my laptop speakers.

They were talking about how many church leaders take seriously training up the next generation of leaders. However, relatively few take seriously training leaders to train up the successive generation of leaders.

I have seen a great amount of this problem.  Consider the following diagram:

Leaders

George and Bird noted II Timothy 2:22, and that the goal of training and leading is not simply to develop the next generation, but to develop the next generation TO develop the generation afterwards.

Even the first step is difficult to focus on. In the figure above, the left side feels right. We have seen many examples of this in the Bible. Jethro had to pressure Moses to develop leaders. The book of Judges appears to be a big collection of leaders who led without developing the next generation. Eli would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Samuel. Samuel would have developed no one unless God (or was it the people?) intervened with Saul. Elijah would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Elisha.

But some embrace the right side of the figure above and DO develop leaders. But often they develop a different kind of leader. The type of leader they develop is not trained to develop leaders. When I was listening to the podcast the first thing I thought of was the end of the book of Joshua.

Israel served the Lord throught the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done through Israel.  Joshua 24:31

Now I am not sure how to interpret the passage. Were these elders of the same generation as Joshua (or, I guess, slightly younger)? Were they his colleagues or trainees? Regardless, soon after Joshua died, the leadership broke down. Moses trained up Joshua and Caleb, but soon after those two died, things began to fall apart and we are into the cycle of Judges where everyone did “what was right in their own eyes.”

The leadership of Moses and MAYBE Joshua followed the pattern of the upper right figure. What was not done was the figure below.

Leaders 2

How does this happen? I can think of two ways.

First, they train but don’t empower those they train to train others. I am part of the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) movement in the Philippines. People in this movement are trained and certified to supervise and train others. However, in the Philippines the desire generally has been to train pastoral counselors or clinical chaplain, but not so much to train others to train others. Often those that wanted to be trained from the third generation still had to go back to the first generation. It is not surprising that the CPE movement in the Philippines has been “sputtery.” It has struggled because the training often did not include the empowerment and certification to train others. The power of certification was often held by the originally certified.  Ordination in church can do the same thing. Ordained ministers train up unordained ministers but those unordained ministers are never ordained or empowered to do certain things. Thus, there is no repeatable process to succeeding generations. When the first generation is gone, there is no one to slip into the role… and they have to look for a 23 year old fresh out of seminary to take over the role. This is not a good system.

Second, they may train but for a different role. I have seen this also in the Philippines. Missionaries came to the Philippines to train up Filipino leaders. However, the roles they generally were trained for was not missions or higher level teaching. They were taught to pastor, lead worship, or plant churches. As important as these roles were, by not training Filipinos to be missionaries or seminary professors, the people became dependent on the missionaries. The problem is that while the church may endure, missionaries come and go, and sometimes just go. I have seen many a missionary refuse to leave a role because he believes he is indispensible. It may be true he is, but if he is, it is because he created the system to maintain his indispensibility. (It is quite possible that I have been guilty of this myself.)

Leaders need to do more than train up leaders. They need to empower these leaders to train up other leaders.

We can do better than in Joshua 24:31. We should do better than training up a generation to be faithful as long as they can remember us. We need to train up generations that have never heard of us.