“Holy Discontent”

I just finished reading another book by Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent. Last week I finished When Leadership and Discipleship Collide, which I wrote about here. I wanted to include both books in my dissertation, at the last minute.

As I said before, Hybels is one of my favorite writers/leaders. Not only is Holy Discontent an excellent book, but I strongly consider it worthwhile reading for every Christ-follower (especially every Christ-following leader) who wants to make a difference in the world!

This book, Hybels states, began with the question, “Why do people do what they do?” (13).

Hybels reflected on this question for a couple years, then concludes …

I believe the motivating reason why millions of people choose to do good in the world around them is because there is something wrong in that world. In fact, there is something so wrong that they just can’t stand it (23).

That’s what Hybels refers to as “holy discontent.” Hybels writes, “Once that frustration and anger is understood as being your holy discontent … it’s as if an enormous wave of positive energy gets released inside you” (26).

Hybels shares the stories of some people who were driven by holy discontent, including, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Pierce, among others.

All of this leads Hybels to ask: “What can’t you stand?” (34).

I hope this question grabs your heart, as it has mine, and that it won’t let you go until you’re able to answer it, because we must change the world around us!

Hybels argues that there’s “a danger in opting out of your holy discontent pursuit” (51). He writes that in opting out, “you also opt out of tackling the good works God has wired you up to accomplish” (51).

This is a matter of growth and maturity. Hybels asserts …

… over time, Christ-followers should in fact begin to look less like themselves and more like Christ. Therefore, on an ever-increasing basis, Christ-followers should be abandoning their self-seeking viewpoints and taking on an heaven’s perspective. They should be loosening the grip on self-centeredness and instead be looking for ways to serve others (52).

Hybels encourages readers to constantly “be on the lookout for that one cause or purpose or problem that grabs you by the throat and just won’t let go” (53).

In Holy Discontent, Hybels suggests feeding your frustration (i.e. don’t isolate yourself from your holy discontent): “the best thing you can do,” Hybels writes, “is move toward your area of holy discontent until you have clear direction from God as to what action you should take to resolve it” (67-68).

If we don’t feed our holy discontent, Hybels warns …

The fuel will dry up. The firestorm will fizzle out. No matter how amped up we are about something that wrecks us, time and repetition take a toll … Determine now that you will never insulate yourself from what wrecks you. Instead, increase your exposure … and then hang onto your hat, because real living is going to rock your world when you begin to share space with your holy discontent! (74)

Hybels also talks about “magnetic living.”

“If you are full of darkness and despair,” Hybels contends, “then the only type of ‘magnetic living’ you will be doing is the kind that sucks people into your black hole of despondency” (126).

If you still believe that with God all things really are possible, you owe it to yourself and to the people in your sphere of influence to determine each and every day to keep your level of faith-based optimism high. In other words, you simply cannot allow what ‘wrecks’ you to wreck you (132-133).

And that, according to Hybels, is an area of self-leadership. “… only you can keep your hope meter high” (133). Further, “This area of self-leadership, Hybels states, “is absolutely critical because everyone you lead … takes their cue from you” (134-135).

Holy Discontent is making an impact on me. It’s also going to impact the opening section of my dissertation which lays out my “holy discontent.” As I wrap up my defense draft in the next week (mostly technical revisions, at this point), and as I prepare to continue advancing God’s kingdom in my part of the world, I need to wrestle with the question (which will probably someday be the topic of another post) …

What can’t I stand?

Hybels writes …

I assure you there is a holy discontent with your name on it. There is something out there that God is waiting for you to grab on to so that he can use you to help solve it. It wrecks you, it wrecks him, and he is ready for you both to do something about it (54).

In the context of talking about David’s stirring against Goliath, Hybels offered the following prayer, which is a good prayer for us to pray, as well …

What you care about, God, is what I want to care about too. What stirs your spirit, God, stirs my spirit too. And however you want to use me to help solve the problem that we both see … I’m in (70).

I’m in. Are you?

Come to Jesus

A second thing struck me while listening to Mark on the road yesterday (read about the first thing in my last post). Also in Mark 10, there’s a story about Jesus healing a blind man, Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52).

The phrase that especially caught my attention was Jesus’ statement upon hearing the blind man begging for Jesus’ help:

Tell him to come here.

Think about it. Jesus instructs some people to tell a blind man to come to him. What’s up with that? The least Jesus could do is go to this man who’s calling for his help, right? But no, Jesus makes the blind man to come to him.

As I thought about it, other similar incidents came to mind …

When Jesus (finally!) arrived at the village where Mary and Martha (some of his best friends who are grieving the loss of their brother Lazarus), Jesus doesn’t even go to their home. In fact, Jesus stops outside the village and waits for Martha, and later Mary, to come to him.

On another occasion, Jesus and three of his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, descended from a mountain retreat. When they arrived at the foot of the mountain they found a crowd of people gathered with the rest of Jesus’ disciples, who were unable to cast a demon out of a boy. Jesus said, “Bring the boy to me.”

So, what’s the deal? Is Jesus insensitive? Or is something else at play here?

I think Jesus is intentional. Jesus is willing to meet us, but there’s just something about taking that first step!

We’ve got to come to Jesus, the one who says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).

Entering God’s Kingdom is Very Hard

Joleen and I are splitting shifts this week between caring for, and spending time with, Ethan and working on our dissertations (defenses are just over three weeks away).

I took yesterday afternoon and went to use the Wi-Fi Internet access at Wegmans. On the road to and from State College I listened to the last several chapters of Mark on CD.

One phrase from Jesus particularly grabbed my attention:

… it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.

This line comes from the story of the rich man (Mark 10.17-31). In it, Jesus explains the man’s inability to follow — the guy’s possessions (or, more accurately, the things that possessed the guy) prevented him from surrendering his life to God.

Why is it hard to enter the kingdom of God?

On the one hand, I think some of us have a tendency to want to lower the bar, to make it as easy as we can for others to cross the line of faith and join us on the journey. The last thing we want to do is make it hard for people to follow God. But Jesus never seems to lower the bar.

Others of us, like the Pharisees, want to take matters into our own hands by creating rules that tend squeeze the God-life out of people. Jesus certainly had harsh words for such people. While Pharisees may create “religious people” (people who rely on a human made system for salvation) they do not form Christ-followers (people who’ve completely surrendered to God).

The real challenge is avoiding both of these extremes. It’s not about earning God’s approval. It’s not about following a set of rules. It’s not about reciting the sinner’s prayer. It’s not really even simply about believing in God.

It’s more than any of those things. It’s about giving your whole heart to God.

And there’s nothing more difficult than that!

Happy Easter!

Christ is risen!

This is our first Easter together as a family. We began the weekend (Saturday) experiencing a little snow from a late season Alberta Clipper that passed through on Friday night. Ethan didn’t seem to be too overly excited about it, though.

Also on Saturday, Ethan climbed the 16 steps from the first floor to the second floor two different times. That was a first. I followed close behind to make sure he didn’t fall.

And this morning before heading off to church we took a few photos of Ethan with some of his gifts, including the Easter basket we gave him. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get Ethan to smile at a camera that’s on a tripod that snaps a photo every few seconds (on a timer). 🙂

We are grateful for Ethan. And we’re grateful that Christ died for him, and for all humanity, and that he was raised from the dead, so that all people may know God and be free from sin and death. May we all know Christ and the power of his resurrection this Easter!

“When Leadership and Discipleship Collide”

One of my favorite writers/leaders is Bill Hybels, founding/senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL). Hybels has more than 30 years of leadership experience, and I am always inspired and challenged when I read his stuff.

It’s no different after reading When Leadership and Discipleship Collide, a brief book with about 57 pages of text from start to finish.

In this short book, Hybels addresses a great question — “What do you do when the laws of leadership collide with the teachings of Christ?”

Hybels begins with the claim that Jesus “was the greatest leader ever” (12). Even so, Hybels writes that he noticed after reading through the gospel of Mark, that Jesus, on a number of occasions, broke conventional leadership laws, including …

  • Build a team of highly qualified leaders
  • Keep up the momentum
  • Propagate good press
  • Avoid unnecessary controversy
  • Leverage time and influence
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
  • Avoid sensational exploits
  • Demonstrate unshakable courage

After sharing some of his own experiences of breaking leadership laws at times, Hybels asks the question, “What will be my response when the laws of leadership and discipleship collide?” (43)

Hybels writes that he has come to understand leadership laws as simply “descriptions of hard-learned lessons that, for hundreds of years, leaders have come to view as valuable guides toward mission fulfillment” (45). (For more on leadership laws, check out John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, which Hybels also refers to.)

Of course, anyone who is familiar with Hybels knows that he believes in the value of leadership. Hybels contends, “collisions between leadership and discipleship are actually quite uncommon” (47). In fact, “Jesus consistently manifested what we might consider ‘leadership laws’ throughout his ministry” (49).

Hybels writes …

It has been my strong bias for the last thirty-plus years that Christian leaders must take full advantage of the accumulated teachings of every leadership generation that has gone before them. What we work for in ministry leadership is the single most important endeavor on planet Earth–the building of the kingdom of God (48).

So, Hybels is by no means devaluing leadership. But he is saying that there will be times when what God calls you to do will collide with known/trusted leadership laws. Hybels writes …

In those rare cases when the humans laws of leadership and the scriptural demands of discipleship do collide, decide on the side of discipleship every time (50).

Further, Hybels challenges leaders …

to be the Christ-follower who really does seek God’s kingdom first. Be Jesus’ disciple in whatever arena you lead and conform yourself to his image in whatever situation you find yourself. Keep Christ first whenever the laws of leadership and discipleship collide (57).

Toward the end of the book, Hybels discusses the ministry of the Holy Spirit, writing, “the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a very real, very accessible gift to be opened by every Christ-follower” (57). Hybels continues …

Christian leaders cannot afford to wield influence apart from the direction of the Holy Spirit. It takes more than human-crafted leadership laws to be effective; the role of Scripture and of the ministry of the Holy Spirit can never be overestimated (58).

I think what I loved most about the book is this seasoned leader, through his own life experiences, has grown in his dependence on God. It’s all too easy for leaders to gain confidence in their own ability to lead and to subsequently depend on God less. Leaders must never forget, as Hybels writes, “the power of the Holy Spirit is the leader’s best friend” (64).

Hybels leaves readers with a great challenge …

If you know the laws of leadership and follow them when they should be followed, if you love God and readily follow the prompting of his Spirit when you sense he is guiding, then you will make it. And when there’s a collision, if you say, ‘I’m going to decide on the side of discipleship and the clear teachings of Scripture every time. I’m going to put my hand in the Holy Spirit’s hand all day, every day, and allow him to be my guide and my strength,’ then you will make it. In fact, you won’t just ‘make it’–you will thrive. You won’t just thrive–you will prevail! And you will be able to overcome whatever the forces of darkness throw at you, guaranteed (66).

Some of Our Favorite Things

During our first few weeks with Ethan, we’ve written a good bit about the challenges we’re facing with Ethan’s transition into our home. In the process, we’re also getting to know Ethan better and we’re discovering more of his personality.

IMG_0540Joleen and I have been discussing some of our favorite things

  • Ethan’s smile as we lift him out of his crib after he wakes up.
  • Rubbing his eyes on our chests/shoulders when he gets sleepy or is waking up.
  • The wide variety of babbling and sounds.
  • Big laughs.
  • Lots of smiles.
  • Clapping his feet (on the floor) when he’s happy.
  • Bouncing and dancing to music when standing, or bouncing his feet when seated (e.g. in the car seat).
  • Curiosity.
  • Inquisitive eyes.

It’s interesting to watch Ethan grow and develop, even in our first 5 weeks together. As we get to know Ethan better, we’re certain this list will grow!

Appreciative Inquiry: A Transformational Leadership Strategy

In our dissertation work (at Asbury Theological Seminary), Joleen and I chose Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as the strategy for our field research (at the suggestion of our mentor, Dr. Russell West).

AI, which grew out of Dr. David Cooperrider’s Ph.D. work in the 1980s, is a response to more traditional approaches that tend to focus on problems. Rather than focusing on problems, AI focuses on discovering and building on the life-giving forces within an organization. A core belief of AI is that in every organization, something works.

AI has flourished as an organizational development strategy and has been used in many organizations, including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), World Vision, American Red Cross, and United Way of America (check out “The Art of Appreciative Inquiry” to read more on GMCR’s experience with AI).

The Framework
AI is a process and is commonly described with the 4-Ds (discover, dream, design, and deliver) or the 4-Is (initiate, inquire, imagine, and innovate). I prefer the 4-Is, myself.

  • Initiate involves laying the groundwork for the AI process, including the selection of the topics that will be addressed. A core belief in AI is that what is focused on will determine the direction of the organization.
  • Inquire centers around interviews which seek to draw out positive stories about times when interviewees have seen things working at their best.
  • Imagine brings the stories (collected in the interviews) together so that themes can be identified.
  • Innovate involves developing practical steps to turn vision into reality.

Implications for Transformational Leaders
We believe AI has tremendous implications and possibilities for leaders who seek transformation in their organizations, because …

  • AI is collaborative. AI involves many people (potentially everyone in the organization) in the process, giving everyone a chance to contribute to the direction of the organization.
  • AI gathers stories. These stories not only provide insight into the life-giving forces of an organization, they also serve as resources in casting vision to keep the organization moving forward.
  • AI focuses on what’s right, not what’s wrong. Whereas focusing on what’s wrong (what’s not working) is de-motivating, focusing on what’s right (what’s working) is motivating and energizing. (This is not to say that problems are ignored; rather, they must be reframed.
  • AI generates positive action. The point of AI is not simply to learn what the life-giving forces of an organization are. Rather, the point is to maximize those life-giving forces and create positive action.

We plan to incorporate AI into our own work of transformational leadership in the churches we lead.

To learn more about AI …
Here are some books and Web sites we’ve found helpful …

I’m sure we’ll write more about AI in the future as we further integrate it into our leadership. We may also share the experiences/results of AI processes from our dissertation work. In the meantime, feel free to discuss AI in the comments section and/or to suggest other must-see AI resources.

Defenses Scheduled!

Two weeks ago, we posted that we had mailed the defense-ready drafts of our dissertations to our mentor, who delivered them to the doctor of ministry office on March 6 (after one last read-through).

In the meantime, the editor at Asbury is currently editing them (they should be returned to us within the next few days).

The doctor of ministry office has also been working on scheduling our defense hearings, and we received confirmation yesterday that our defenses have been scheduled

Randy’s defense — Thursday, April 17, 2008 (1:30 – 3:30 pm).

Joleen’s defense — Friday, April 18, 2008 (9:00 – 11:00 am).

Interestingly, we will return from Asbury on Friday (4/18) (and possibly, Saturday, 4/19, depending on how our first long road trip with Ethan goes), and then return for our first Sunday (4/20) after our parental leaves. That’s going to be quite a few days!

In case you missed it, we also detailed the road map for finishing our dissertations between now and graduation.

We would appreciate your continued prayers as we finish up this part of our journey!

Family Immersion

Our busy weekend, which started with getting our tax returns completed at H&R Block Friday, continued Saturday with our annual Easter dinner with the Flaughs (Joleen’s step-dad’s family).

IMG_0513This is always a big family gathering — Joleen’s mom and step-dad (Paul), Paul’s five sons and their families, plus Joleen and I, and new to the group this year, Ethan. In all, around 25 people gather to eat together each year.

We knew this would be a good test for Ethan. While he’s met a lot of new people in recent weeks, he has not hung around many children, yet. He got that opportunity Saturday.

Paul’s grandchildren are divided into two groups: the older group are all boys and the younger group are all girls. Ethan is pictured here with the granddaughters, who were anxious to spend the evening entertaining Ethan. Ethan enjoyed the attention.

The family also celebrated Ethan’s arrival with a baby shower where Ethan got some stuff to wear this summer.

We thought Ethan handled the day very well!