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Why we have cultures of silence

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

monastary_silence_rect

I am reading Crucial Conversations–moving very slowly through it and it is excellent.  They provide video links to illustrate what they are saying in the text (a bit awkward if you are reading on a kindle) and have even sent me other articles to read. I just finished their Eliminating Cultures of Silence, a position paper by Crucial Conversations and have clipped a number of sections out of it into Evernote.  Following are some four reasons they suggest in this paper as to why a culture of silence may exist in your (or in my own) organization.

1. You observe a potential problem, but you figure the possible calamity isn’t a sure thing. It’s not like death or bankruptcy is imminent; they’re just possibilities.

2. Nobody else seems concerned and you don’t want to sound like an alarmist.

3. You figure even if you do speak up, nobody will actually change anything—the organization is too mired in bureaucracy.

4. Finally, it seems like a sure bet that saying something will damage your career. You would be delivering a really unpopular message (“I think you need to re-examine the launch—at the cost of fifty million dollars.” “I think we need to confront the senior execs and maybe send them to jail.” “I think the doctor is wrong and needs to follow my ideas.”). And messengers get shot.

This inability to bring up touchy, controversial, or unpopular issues lies at the heart of every culture of silence.

Which of these is most problematic for you and your organization.

Learning to live as a human

May 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally.  This followed after I began to read  Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?

bridge out to houses on water

Photo by Viktor Bors

This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere.  Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351

Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246  We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).  Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others.  Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652

footprintsEswine suggests that we need expose these temptations that “hinder the recovery of our humanity and our seeing his glory” (764) by surrendering these three limits.  We must admit the following,

We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766

We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777

In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782

What happens when we forget that it is all about God

May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

What happens when we forget that our ministry is God’s? When the ministry become more about us than about God?  We have all done it. And we do so to our own peril!  When Jehoram (son of the great King Jehoshophat) became King in 2 Chronicles 21, he ended his leadership with a lonely and agonizing death.  As verse 20 says, “No one regretted his death.”

Raymond Dillard in the Word Commentary series offers a devastating summary of Jehoram’s life,

“Irony permeates the account of Jehoram’s reign. Rather than enlarging the scope of his power through seizing his brothers’ cities, he loses control  over Libnah and Edom; rather than securing the succession of his own children by slaughtering his brothers, he sees them suffer a similar fate; rather than securing life and happiness for himself, he suffers an agonizing and premature death; rather than gaining the devotion of his subjects, he dies unmourned and without the customary honors attending a royal funeral (McConville, 198). So it is for those who forget that the kingdom is God’s (1 Chr 10:14; 17:14; 28:5; 29:11; 2 Chr 13:8)”.

What do you do in order to not forget that it is all about God and not about you?

An opportunity for his power to be displayed in our weakness

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Many of you out there may know about the recent melt-down of Jason Russell.  Apparently, Jason is a Christian activist who produced the viral Kony 2012 and co-led the group Invisible Children.  Julie Barrios has written a powerful blog post about what Russell’s breakdown can teach all of us who are driven to succeed. A couple of quotes from her post follow.

When our varied kinds of deep disorientation and insecurity go unprocessed, it becomes an energy in the soul that is so strong that it can accomplish tremendous things, for better or worse.  The need to repress the pain and reorient oneself becomes the driving force of life.

Consider Russell’s breakdown an invitation. It is an invitation to all of you, to all of us, to explore the internal minefield in which our ministries are tangled. It is the minefield of our childhood traumas, our need for approval, and our attachment to our own perceived goodness.  As we explore this minefield, bombs go off, but may we not lose heart, for our explosions are no more than jarring, forthright, and insistent invitations to experience the prevailing and preeminent power of Christ and His cross.

Indeed, when we are feeling pain and disappointment, we have an opportunity to process those desires deep within.  May God give us all grace in this journey.

One of those cracked pot days

February 2, 2012 2 comments

personal photo

I guess it was one of those cracked pot days. (2 Cor 4:7)

Someone recently told me, “David you have a need to be wanted.” A friend helped me to process the conversation and said to me, “In the context of that conversation, that was a vicious attack.” He encouraged me to see the hand of God in the wound.  Not that God is viscious or mean but even in the hurtful words, God was present with me.

My questions: Why? To what end? For what purpose?  Now those are questions that can’t be answered at this stage of my journey or maybe not ever.

Perhaps the most hurtful part of the discussion was the following comment, “David, you have a need to be wanted. And so I am not going to tell you that I want you.” Ouch!

A word given to me was, “Assyria is a rod in my hand.”  To punish/discipline but also as a reminder that God has not abandoned.  In the middle of the pain, God is there—what a challenge for me to see that—to believe that—to love that.

Back to needing to be wanted. Actually, I acknowledged that I do need to be wanted.  Just as I need to be loved.  David Benner says our longings, our desires are pathways for our journey with God.  He think he would say that intimacy with God is impossible without desire being present.

Here is a quote from Benner’s Soulful Spirituality,

Despite how it is sometimes presented, desire is right at the center of the spiritual life. A sense of obligation may sometimes be enough to keep you going to church, but only desire will keep you open to God and still seeking when your experience in church is filled with frustration and is irrelevant to your deepest spiritual longings. Guilt may be strong enough to motivate religious behavior, but only desire can lead you ahead on the spiritual journey. The absence of desire means the absence of spiritual life. 335

At age 56, I am much more aware of my own neediness than I was at age 23 or 32!  For that I am grateful.  I recognize the truth of 2 Cor 3:5, “who of us is capable of such things?” Not me, that is for sure. Not by my own strength and power.  My sufficiency is only found in the Lord Jesus! I possess a neediness, a longing for more that will not be totally fulfilled until I see the Lord Jesus face to face—the transformation that is currently in process will one day be complete (2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

I am aware that much damage has been done in the name of ministry by people who are needy—who need to be wanted, liked and loved.  But I suspect the damage is done more by people who are unaware of their neediness or deny it.  I wonder if more damage has been done by those in ministry when they think that they have no needs!  So for today, gratefully I accept that yes, I am David, a man before God who needs to be wanted and loved and I am thankful that God wants me, loves me, has chosen me to be his beloved and has brought many people into my life who walk with me and are courageous enough to love me and walk with me on this faith journey.  Thank you God.

Here is a song that seems to express well my heart tonight.

Suffering and glory

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Amazing how suffering and glory run together as I read 1 Peter 5:1-10.  Some thoughts that fit well with life right now.

Love the juxtaposition of the words, “witness of the sufferings” and “partaker in the glory.” How closely suffering and glory seem to be related in Scripture–for the Lord Jesus and for me as His follower and as one of the leaders in his church. Shepherding–willingly, not because I have to or should do so, not domineering but being an example, with humility not with pride. Surely there is suffering in the midst of the shepherding–my experience teaches me this and because when my shepherd appears he comes in glory and with glory for me, glory that comes after the suffering. Taking advantage of the suffering, my enemy wants to devour me with discouragement and despair, yet I have one who cares for me in the midst of the struggle and promises me after the suffering, eternal glory will come—He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, establish–words that give me life, hope and reassurance I am not alone in the battle. Thank you Lord.

Story-telling, listening and spiritual direction

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Gentoo penguins by Andreas Butz

Saw the following in Ken Royers’s email newsletter that he sends out (for free) to personnel involved in missionary member care.  In his January letter, he passed on “Good Listening: Three Before Me,” an article by Steve Karum of NTM. Although Karum does not use the word spiritual direction, what he is suggesting is a way of accompanying fellow missionaries in their journey with God as we listen to their stories.  Is that not a form of SD? I suppose he is offering a little bit of SD and a bit of coaching He suggests we ask the following three questions as we listen to another’s story:

1. “In light of this how are you and God doing?”
2. “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”
3, “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”

Following is Karum’s article in full:

“Three before me” is a little self-reminder, like a string tied on my finger, to stay focused on the one with whom I’m conversing by asking three important questions.

Currently our ministry is with missionaries on home assignment.  We find that while all missionaries have a story to tell, telling the story is just half the experience.  If “telling the story” is to be effective, the story-teller needs to have a good story-listener.  Therefore the main question:  How good a story-listener am I?

Has this ever happened to you?  As the story-teller you’re deeply engaged in relating an incident when all of a sudden, out of the blue, your story is intercepted, hijacked!  Somewhere in the course of your story telling the listener grew bored and took over the conversation!  It might have happened in a short millisecond in which you paused or you said a word that triggered a story or memories, or even a hobby horse the listener insisted on relating.  It’s hard when that happens.  How do we handle it?  Do we speak “Readers Digest Condensed” the next time we’re the story-teller?

As much as I don’t like it, how many times as a story-listener have I hijacked another person’s story?  Have I adopted the un-golden rule, “Do unto others as they have done to you?”  Seeking to encourage while interacting with the story-teller (without hijacking their story), I aim to ask three important questions to bring perspective into a difficult story.

We recently met with a couple en route to PNG.  Since they had started “Partnership Development” they had several setbacks.  After I heard of these events I asked them Question #1, “In light of this how are you and God doing?”

Although it may seem silly to do so I like to ask this question even when everything is going well.  Maybe this is a question that should come later but I ask it first because we are spiritual beings and I believe it is best to start with the most important relationship we have — God and me.  Question #1 pulls our attention to God.  He knows all about our struggles and just as He knows about battles so He also knows the way through.

It is not uncommon to hear a challenge / struggle / disappointment woven through a missionary’s story.  The missionary may not be sufficiently aware of the struggle to put it into words but I believe it’s there and it’s causing them stress, emotionally, physically or spiritually.  Therefore I like to ask Question #2 in a positive way, “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”  This question focuses on our God-given strengths.  These strengths will with His direction help us overcome the problem and grow stronger.  It is a question that hopefully will draw the heart toward hope.

Humans are part of a social network and missionaries have several networks:  friends, relatives, churches, mission organization, the ministry country or location, local believers, and co-workers.  Within some networks missionaries feel very safe to the point they will reach out for help.  Therefore Question #3:  “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”  This query points them toward another who can come alongside.  Suffering is a given but suffering in solitude can seem intolerable.

Of course every conversation has a life of its own.  It’s never the same as the previous one and that makes listening enjoyable.  By utilizing these questions, each conversation will tell of one’s relationship with God — the questions, the blessing, and the challenges — the strengths they never knew they had, and the strength they drew from the rich wisdom of their friends.

Sometimes the “three before me” doesn’t seem to fit.  The surroundings are important.  Is it quiet?  Is the topic safe to talk about publicly?  How well do we know each other?  These all need to be considered.  So with that in mind here is what I try in conversation with missionaries.

It all starts with their story.  I realize that is so “duh,” but I really believe missionaries, actually all people, feel honored through good listening.  Through engaged listening the listener communicates respect, safety, and love to the missionary.  Billy age 4 is quoted on the Internet, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different!  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”  I’d like every missionary to say, “I know my name is safe with Steve and Patty.”

 In order to subscribe to Ken Royer’s newsletter, email him at   kenroyer@linkcare.org

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