Talent & Character

One of my favorite books on leadership is Next Generation Leader (by Andy Stanley), which I read several years ago. The book focuses on five key areas: competence, courage, clarity, coaching and character.

On character, Stanley writes …

Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you. That ought to scare you.

Christ-following leaders just beginning their journey generally know that they need God, partly because their gifts/talents have not yet been developed or tested. But if we’re not careful, as our gifts/talents develop, we can begin to rely more on our (God-given) giftedness and less on God.

As Andy points out, that’s when things get dangerous!

Truth is, we always need God. But sometimes we forget.

Ethan’s Day Away

As mentioned in the last post, we’re in a pretty intense season right now (and for at least a few more days), which is why our blogging has been light.

To help us get through this season, though, Ethan spent a good part of two days (including one night) at Grammy and Pappy’s house. He returned home this evening for dinner and a little playtime before bedtime.

We certainly missed our “breaks” with Ethan! Friday is our day off, and while we’ll still have some work to do (for commissioning as provisional elders in the UMC, which we’ll write about at some point down the road), we’re hoping to do most of it before Ethan wakes up in the morning and/or during his nap in the afternoon so that can enjoy some much-needed down time as a family!

Forced Breaks

In the old days (the days before Ethan), there were times that we would go non-stop in our work (ministry and/or schoolwork). That might mean things like going from early in the morning till late at night or eating a meal on-the-go. We didn’t do that all the time, of course, only during seasons where there was an extra load.

We’re in one of those several-week-long seasons right now where we could (maybe even need) to go non-stop. The difference now, though, is that Ethan forces us to take breaks — we have to stop to feed him and/or spend time with him, occasionally. 😉

But we’ve found the breaks to be good. Not just breaks, but breaks with Ethan. He helps us to lighten up, to help us remember that some of the things we’re working on — things we’re required to complete by a deadline that is fast approaching — in the grand scheme of things, are not the most important things in the world!

Well, it sounds like Ethan is getting awake. Time for breakfast!

Bible Translations

I grew up in a denomination that was pretty much King James Only (KJO). I don’t think we were as militant about it as some groups, the King James Version (KJV) was simply the preferred/accepted Bible translation. (Of course, many of the modern translations started being published around the time I left the denomination, although there were certainly some newer translations available.)

But as a seminary student in the early 1990s, I started reading other Bible translations. Today, my favorite translations are the New Living Translation (NLT) and Contemporary English Version (CEV). They’re particularly good for readability, which is vitally important in teaching/communication! There are many other good translations as well and I usually read several when doing sermon prep. I also do most of my daily Bible reading online at Bible Gateway where I can read a number of different translations (see my recent post, Online Bible Study Tools for more).

Interestingly, though, even today, around 17 years after immersing myself in the KJV of the Scriptures for 3+ years, I still often remember wording from the KJV and have to go to Bible Gateway to look it up in a another translation. 🙄

When I stopped reading the KJV in the early 1990s, I felt a bit like a rebel (which didn’t really bother me too much). In fact, I felt that way for years, even after becoming a United Methodist pastor of small, rural congregations (who seemed to prefer the KJV), even though United Methodists generally prefer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), another good translation, particularly for its use of inclusive language.

I am grateful for the translations that have come before us, including the KJV. It served the world well, especially when its language was the language people spoke (that’s no longer true). I don’t think that the people who gave their lives so that Bible translations like the KJV could be printed hundreds of years ago gave their lives for us to be dedicated to any one translation; I believe they gave their lives so that people could read God’s Word in their own language!

I express my appreciation and gratitude for the Scriptures and for those who labored to translate God’s Word — its Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words — into languages people can read, understand, and, ultimately, be transformed by!

For more on Bible translations, check out the Better Bibles Blog.

Followers First, Leaders Second.

One morning last week, during my time with God, I was praying for my (and Joleen’s) ministry/leadership, and said …

Make us the followers you want us to be so that we can be the leaders you call us to be!

I have always believed that leaders must first be followers. Christ-following leaders must first be followers of God; indeed, their leadership flows out of following God! But leaders must also be good followers of others (e.g., those in authority, other leaders, etc.). In other words, followership is a prerequisite of leadership.

One of the challenges leaders face is knowing when to follow and when to lead. Certainly, leaders must always follow God. At times, leaders need to know when to follow others as well, particularly, those to whom they delegate responsibility and/or share ministry. Leaders carry the ultimate responsibility of leadership, of course, but there are times when they need to follow, to let others lead.

We are followers first (that’s one of the reasons why I like and prefer the term “Christ-followers”), then leaders.

So, are you a good leader? And, just as important for leaders, are you a good follower?

More on Ethan’s Words

Yesterday was our day off and Randy had an appointment in Altoona. We made arrangements to meet Grammy and PapPap over dinner. Grammy and PapPap haven’t been able to come visit much lately as PapPap had a torn ligament (followed by a blood clot). He just started some minor therapy this week. They are ready for any opportunity they have to see Ethan. Getting to Ethan’s words …

Ethan also says MaMa (of course, I’ll list that one first) and DaDa and PapPap. We’re still working on Gramma. When we call Gramma on the phone, Ethan will call Gramma “PapPap.” I think he’s doing this less. He now will say “Hey” for “Hi” and any other words that we tell him to say while he’s on the phone.

A number of weeks ago, I witnessed his first “conversation” with a stuffed animal. It was a rambling of syllables. He now does this some on the fake phone, but most of the time he gives the fake phone to MaMa to “talk.”

As mentioned before, Ethan’s first phrase came early, “What’ that?” His second phrase to my demise was “No, Ma.”

Ethan has a keen sense of hearing, so when he asks “What’s that?” you have to figure out if he’s seeing or hearing something. Just yesterday he heard the water running upstairs, knowing Daddy was upstairs he linked verbal and sign communication for another phrase. He verbally said DaDa and then gave the sign for “bath.”

His daily developments are amazing!

Radical Hospitality

As I wrote earlier, Centre Grove’s Church Council is discussing Bishop Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Last night, we began discussing “radical hospitality.”

We started the discussion by reflecting on and evaluating how well we are currently practicing hospitality. Basically, we concluded that while there are some good signs (i.e., we believe we’re a friendly church, not just to “insiders,” but to visitors/guests as well, based on feedback, not just our own perceptions), but we also noted that we do not have some of the basics in place (e.g., signage, an intentional/effective system for tracking/welcoming visitors or for follow-up, etc.).

Next, some of us read some statements from the book that particularly inspired, challenged, and/or got our attention. Here are a few of them …

Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. It describes a genuine love for others who are not yet part of the faith community, an outward focus, a reaching out to those not yet known, a love that motivates church members to openness and adaptability, a willingness to change behaviors in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of newcomers. (11-12)

I think this statement summarizes what radical hospitality is all about. It also addresses the change that may be necessary, particularly in places where the hospitality may not be radical.

To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough (27).

One of the exciting things about hospitality and fruitfulness is that …

God uses newcomers to breathe new life into congregations (14).

Here’s a statement we found quite challenging …

Churches that practice Radical Hospitality do not reduce lists, remove names, ignore inactive members, save postage, and take the easiest way. They focus on how to communicate better with greater numbers of people, and they constantly develop lists of visitors, active and inactive members, Christmas and Easter attendees, constituents, day school parents, scout families, and infrequent guests in order to invite them to special services, new ministries, or service projects. They don’t give up on anyone. (26)

We’re actually in the process of updating (and in some cases reducing) our membership record. While I think holding people accountable to the covenant they’ve made to God through the church (i.e., their membership vows) is important, Bishop Schnase’s point is well taken. We should be looking to increase the number of people on our contact lists to reach more people.

And this quote was a good segue into the group activity that followed …

Facilities speak a message to people about what church members think of themselves, how importantly they take their mission, how confidently they see the future of their church. Our buildings tell the world what our church thinks about children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and visitors. What message are we sending? (24)

After our discussion, we conducted a walk-through of our church facilities trying to see them through the eyes of first-time guests. Out of this activity came a list of things that need to be done: adding directional signs at the primary entrance and other key locations, getting rid of some clutter, improving lighting in some areas, especially in the children’s/infant areas, some freshening up here and there, and replacing carpet/flooring where needed.

Also, last night the Church Council approved a plan, which had been on the drawing board for some time, to replace the church’s sign in front of the building. This is a big step toward updating/improving our facilities so that they are more welcoming, inviting, and user-friendly. We want our facilities to not be a hindrance to newcomers; we want them to be as welcoming as possible so that people may find a connection with others in the faith community, and ultimately, with God!

Overall, I think there’s a solid foundation on which to build at Centre Grove. If the church, as a whole, did not actually like people (especially guests), then this would be a much more difficult process. But I think there’s an inclination toward radical hospitality. We simply need to put our intentions into action by developing and improving the basics.

At our next meeting (in April), we will pick up with a couple items, in particular: 1) training “ushers and greeters” (perhaps including a more creative name), and 2) developing a system for tracking and following-up with visitors/guests. I’ll follow that up with a report on how we’re doing in terms of our hospitality.

“Missional Church”

I have written about a couple books that we read awhile back in our D.Min. program at Asbury. I want to write about one more: Missional Church: A vision for the sending of the church in North America (Darrell Guder, editor).

Ever since I read the book in 2004, I have been using the word “missional” to describe what the church and its leaders are about. Missional Church, as the subtitle suggests, casts a vision of God as a “missionary God” and the church as “a ‘sent people’” (4).

The authors believe it’s a necessary vision, especially as Western/North American culture becomes “more pluralistic, more individualistic, and more private” (1). The authors state, “This is a time for a dramatically new vision … there is a need for reinventing or rediscovering the church in this new kind of world” (77).

What is meant by the term “missional”?

With the term missional we emphasize the essential nature and vocation of the church as God’s called and sent people:

  • A missional ecclesiology is biblical
  • A missional ecclesiology is historical
  • A missional ecclesiology is contextual
  • A missional ecclesiology is eschatological
  • A missional ecclesiology can be practiced (The basic function of all theology is to equip the church for its calling.) (11–12)

The church must be contextual.

The gospel is always conveyed through the medium of culture. It becomes good news to lost and broken humanity as it is incarnated in the world through God’s sent people, the church. To be faithful to its calling, the church must be contextual, that is, it must be culturally relevant within a specific setting. The church relates constantly and dynamically both to the gospel and to its contextual reality. (18)


‘Mission’ is not something the church does, a part of its total program. No, the church’s essence is missional, for the calling and sending action of God forms its identity. Mission is founded on the mission of God in the world, rather than the church’s effort to extend itself. (82)

Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit.
Local churches are “communities of the Holy Spirit.” The authors write, “The distinctive characteristic of such communities is that the Holy Spirit creates and sustains them” (142). I love what they say about the purpose of these communities …

The experience of Christian togetherness is not simply for the benefit of those who choose to participate in a Christian community. A community of love rooted in the redemptive reign of God can never be an in-house enterprise, for such love is contagious and overflowing. (148–149)

Ecclesial Practices.
Missional Church highlights several practices …

  • Baptism — “incorporation into the new humanity of God’s reign” (159).
  • Breaking bread together — “Missional communities of the baptized are sustained and nourished in their ongoing life and ministry by breaking bread together as they gather around the Lord’s Supper” (163).
  • Reconciliation — “… an ecclesial practice that fosters, shapes, and sustains missional communities.”
  • Discernment — “To discern is to prove or test (what the will of God is). … Thus the goal of decision making in the church is not simply to discover the will of the community, but instead to discern together the will of God” (172).
  • Hospitality — “cultivating communities of peace” (175).

Missional Church uplifts the role of leadership in the cultivation and shaping of missional churches. They write, “The fullness of Christian life in the Spirit does not spring forth without intentional cultivation” (149).

The authors write, “The key to the formation of missional communities is their leadership” (183), namely leaders who “are driven by a passion to see the reality of the church as a missional people of God” (215).

I’ll wrap up this post with two great quotes about leadership in missional churches …

… fundamental change in any body of people requires leaders capable of transforming its life and being transformed themselves. … Such leadership will be biblically and theologically astute, skilled in understanding the changes shaping North American society, and gifted with the courage and endurance to lead God’s people as missional communities. (183)

The church needs leaders who are not only capable of leading change/transformation, but also people who are engaged in the lifelong process of being changed/transformed themselves. I appreciate the need, too, for “courage” and “endurance,” necessary qualities for missional leaders, especially leaders seeking to lead established/institutional churches to become missional churches.

Jesus provides us with a clear sense of how leadership is to function in our day. … The place of leadership is to be at the front of the community, living out the implications and actions of the missional people of God, so all can see what it looks like to be the people of God. This means that leadership can never be done solo. (186)

Well, it’s been a while since I reviewed these highlighted statements from the book. It was a good review for me — it has stirred my passion once again to lead, and be part of, a missional church!

Ethan’s Words

A couple months ago, we started keeping a list of words that Ethan says (or has said), partly because our pediatrician had asked how many words he can say. Since we weren’t sure, we decided to start a list of words he can say as well as words he can sign.

The list is getting long and I think we’re at the point where we stop adding new words to the list, mainly because it’s getting hard to keep up. It’s not uncommon for Ethan to pick up two or three new words a day. This increase seems to have begun in the last couple of weeks.

Some of Ethan’s early words included “light” (shortly after we brought him home, but discontinued after a little while), “what’s that?” (a phrase I taught him early on that he continues to use many times a day; they’re the oldest words/phrase in his vocabulary). Words like “no,” “car,” and “meow” have been in his vocabulary a while as well.

Some of Ethan’s current favorite words include “happy,” “amen,” and “apple” (he likes apples; he also likes the light on the cover of my Mac laptop, which he recognized as an apple without my help). Some of his newest words are “fan” and “bath” (which he already knew how to sign). In the last two days, he added “hand,” and yesterday, Ethan added “rain” (while watching it rain from the window).

Ethan continues to sign some words as well, although I’d like to be more intentional, especially with action and feeling words/phrases (signing cuts down on the frustration from the inability to communicate).

Ethan picks up signs extremely well. The last few signs he picked up almost without us even trying. One day, he wanted me to read a book to him (one of his favorite activities). While we almost always read when he wants to (it’s a discipline we want to encourage), this wasn’t a particularly good time so I tried to get him to do something else for a while. But, all of a sudden, he signed “book,” a sign I think I had sorta shown him only once or twice (many days earlier). Anyway, I stopped what I was doing and we read some books together.

Communication is an important life-long skill and it all starts with words and signs (i.e., non-verbal communication), the building blocks of communication. Its development is an amazing thing to watch!

HealthMiles :: 21 Days to Level 2

Less than three weeks after starting the HealthMiles incentives program, I have reached Level 2 (out of 5). I plan to update my progress as I reach each new level (see my previous post, Racking Up HealthMiles, including the comments about how individuals can now sign up for the program; we have joined through our conference’s health insurance plan).

Reaching Level 2 (6,000 HealthMiles or “rewards points”) is fairly easy, though, and it generates $25 HealthCash (which I can receive in the form of gift cards or cash, I believe). Many of the first 6,000 points are given simply for things like signing up and activating the pedometer, completing a Health Snapshot survey, signing a smoke-free agreement, as well as extra points for reaching each of the milestones (7,000, 12,000, and 20,000 steps) for the first time (100, 200, and 300 HealthMiles, respectively), etc.

Overall, I took 296,221 steps in my first three weeks (an average of 14,106 steps/day) in getting to Level 2 which breaks down like this …

  • Less than 7,000 steps: 1 day
  • 7,000+ steps: 2 days
  • 12,000+ steps: 16 days
  • 20,000+ steps: 2 days

According to the HealthMiles website, 7,000 steps is considered a good day’s workload. Other sources consider 10,000 steps a good target (the HealthMiles site even offers a downloadable guide to getting 10,000 steps/day).

The one day I got less than 7,000 steps was the day we travelled to Mechanicsburg for 6 hours of psychological testing, totaling 12 hours with time on the road, taking tests, eating lunch, and talking with a counselor. One of the two days I got 7,000+ steps was the first day, which was only a half day.

Interestingly, on very few of the 21 days did I actually get out and “walk” (I did get out and walk on the two 20,000+ days, including our day off yesterday). Most of it was simply walking around from the time I got up in the morning till I went to bed at night. As I said before, I do a lot while walking — thinking, praying, even eating and/or reading, sometimes. I also park at the back of parking lots and take stairs instead of elevators whenever possible.

20,000 steps isn’t really worth it from a HealthMiles perspective (not to mention that the days after getting 20,000 steps, like today, I’d be happy with 7,000 steps! 😉 ). 20,000 steps generates 100 HealthMiles but you can take 12,000+ steps (80 HealthMiles) and log an activity session in the Activity Journal (10 HealthMiles) for 90 HealthMiles. However, hitting 20,000 steps the first time is a good deal with the 300 bonus points!

On the HealthMiles site, users can challenge other HealthMiles participants. I created my first challenge yesterday (a 21-day challenge for the most steps starting next Wednesday — unfortunately, our workload during those 3 weeks will be extremely intense!). In recent weeks, I’ve been looking around to see who’s wearing GoZone pedometers, including at last week’s interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry. In all, I challenged 14 other people. (If you’re a HealthMiles member and would like to participate in a future challenge, let me know.)

While reaching Level 2 was easy, reaching the other levels will be more difficult. It’ll take another 6,000 HealthMiles to reach Level 3 ($75), then 12,000 more to reach Level 4 ($100), and another 12,000 to reach Level 5 ($100) — and that’s with many of the freebies and bonuses out of the way! It took me 21 days to get to Level 2, but I’m guessing it will take approximately 60 more days to get to Level 3 (if I stay on track).