Be excellent to each other

I know a chapel recently vacated by a group of nuns, who took with them the large cross which had been nailed on the wall behind the altar for many years.  Although the cross has now gone, it is still possible to see the outline of where it used to be, which reminds me that even where the cross has been removed, its shadow remains.  This can lead us to mistakenly believe that the cross is at the centre of our lives, when actually we are looking at its shadow.  Where is the cross missing in our lives and communities, even though its shadow remains?

If we do not return continually to the cross, and remind ourselves of our complete need for that one moment in time when Jesus dealt with the price for our shortcomings and excesses, and realign our lives to live out the impact of that great cosmic event, we can end up with an empty outline of Christianity which may appear structurally, liturgically and ethically Christian but lacks the authenticity of a truly redeemed lifestyle.

And this lifestyle starts with how we treat others.

In Europe today we are seeing the rise of intolerance.  Some groups are feeling threatened by other groups.  Some think their needs are being marginalised.  Some fear a loss of their cultural identity.  As a result, these people express themselves vocally, sometimes violently, against those they perceive to be different.  Similar fears can arise in missions teams around the world too, where one particular group or culture becomes dominant.  Others can easily feel marginalised and overlooked.

For example, singles can feel their needs are not addressed where those of families are prioritised (or vice versa).  Or where teams operate using English as their common language, those who don’t speak it well can feel they don’t have the ability to express themselves.  In other circumstances people who come from a culture where it is courteous to wait to be invited to speak often have no opportunity for their voice to be heard if others are accustomed to speaking their mind loudly and  frankly.

Fortunately these issues seldom boil over into rioting!  But they can lead to an undercurrent of discontent and add to stress and attrition.  Which is why we need to make sure that the cross isn’t absent from our missionary communities.  The shadow of it may be there, but sometimes the reality of it can be startlingly absent, particularly in the way in which we treat one another.

The New Testament is full of counter-cultural teaching on relationships.  Some examples are:

  • Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39)
  • Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)
  • Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:13)
  • Submit to one another in Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
  • If God so loved us, we ought to love each other (1 John 4:11)

It might be a good idea for us to start our meetings with readings of such scriptures, and reflect on how we can live out those commandments, in order to remind ourselves to “Be excellent to each other.” (William S Preston, Esq.)

Multi-cultural co-workers

Source: www.freeimages.com

Multicultural teams are a key feature of global mission, and so too is the conflict and misunderstanding that they can bring!  In the past we’ve looked at different aspects of teamwork but today we’re going to look at some different characteristics that we can consciously look to develop in ourselves to help us contribute to the smooth running of the team.

When we think of multi-cultural teams it is often tempting to focus on nationality or heart language, but there are also many other factors that contribute to the cultures that individuals bring into a team, like ecclesiology, socio-economic background, gender, marital status, level of education and generation.  These all affect the often-unconscious assumptions people bring to how things should be done, and what is valued.

1) Humility.  Many, if not most, cultures bring up their citizens to have national pride.  This is only a small step away from a jingoistic belief that we are better than all the rest.  Which is patently not true – just look at how every four years the English think this is their year to win the football World Cup when in fact their team usually struggles to get past the first round.  Too often European and North American mission workers have been guilty of thinking “West is best” or “White is right”, but other cultures can also fall into the trap of denigrating others.  Humility helps us recognise that while our home culture may bring some strengths into the mission field, we have much to learn from both our host culture and our co-workers.

2) Self-awareness.  We build on our humility effectively when we understand the extent to which we operate within a culture we have grown up in, which subconsciously affects our values and thought patterns.  Armed with self-awareness we are better equipped to understand why somebody else’s choices and preferences annoy us so much, and why ours do the same to them.  It helps us to treat people as individuals and not stereotype them according to the culture we see them as belonging to.

3) Inquiry.  I am frequently amazed that some mission workers can complain loudly and frequently about the behaviour of others without stopping to inquire what drives that behaviour.  For example, when I lived in Africa I heard many (white) mission workers complain that “Africans are lazy”.  Anyone who has seen a grain lorry overturn in the bush and seen hundreds of people appear from nowhere and squirrel away tons of spilled maize into bags and chitenges will know that Africans most certainly are not lazy.  But those mission workers who think so have probably never tried to align their objectives with those of their employees, or motivate them effectively, with the result that the Africans don’t work hard – for them.

4) Love.  It covers a multitude of sins, and should be put on over everything else like an overcoat.   With genuine, sacrificial love like Jesus had, we are able to value individuals as Christ-redeemed brothers and sisters, inquire into their cultural norms and help them to feel honoured and valued.  Love helps us accept people for who they are, rather than simply trying to correct them for being wrong.

So next time we are tempted to grumble about tensions in our cross-cultural communities, let’s ask ourselves first how much more vibrant they would be if only we were able to let go of our own culture a little bit more.

Safety in numbers

Chanctonbury ringWe all know the idea of safety in numbers, whether it’s herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Serengeti, or shoals of mackerel avoiding predators like tuna.  But we might not have noticed that trees do the same.  A few tree species produce winged seeds that catch the wind and fly far away, but most, like the oak, produce heavy ones that don’t fall far from the parent tree, so that they can build up a forest around them for protection.

Whether it’s a naturally-occurring forest or a human-made plantation, trees tend to flourish in groups.  This can be best seen in some of the Victorian plantations that still stand on the top of some of Britain’s hills.  Trees seldom grow alone on the top of exposed hills, and if they do, they don’t always grow big and strong.  The wind breaks off their tender new growth resulting in squat, bent trees.  This still happens on the windward side of hilltop woods.  The ones that bear the brunt of the wind still struggle, but in doing so, they provide shelter for the downwind ones.  The further away the trees are from the force of the wind, the taller and straighter they grow.  In other words, the upwind ones take a hit for the others.

Mission workers are too often like lone trees struggling against the elements.  They leave the safety of their natural environment to go somewhere more demanding.  They might persist but they don’t thrive.  Which raises the obvious question – where is the community?  Who is taking the hit for you so that you can grow big and strong?

It doesn’t have to be one supporter who suffers greatly bearing this burden, but a number who share it between them.  Part of raising support before we go is finding the members of this team who not only provide the money (and that’s what we focus on getting, right?) but can provide practical and pastoral support, communication and prayer.

It’s also about being part of a team in the field which supports us in our challenges.  Whether they are specialist member care workers, supportive colleagues or understanding team leaders, we need to make sure that we have a team which takes the hit for us (and vice versa).  We must also remember not to overlook the provision that God has given us in the local believers.  Too often we come to the mission field with a mentality of serving the local church which is at best paternalistic if not neo-colonialist, and we don’t even entertain the fact that they might be able to serve and encourage us.  But perhaps we serve them best when we show that we are not strong and invincible but fragile and vulnerable and allow them to help us in our need.

Few of us are called to be a lonely pine on a hilltop.  Most of us are intended to be mighty oaks of righteousness, planted together in groups which will bless and encourage others.  So take a look around and see where the other trees are, and whether you can’t actually start growing closer together.

Guest blog: Keep on keeping on!

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in Cambodia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

At the 1968 Summer Olympics John Stephen Akhwari ran in the marathon representing Tanzania. Part way through the race he fell badly and dislocated his knee. He valiantly kept running as best he could and finished last. He was asked why he had kept going. He replied, “My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish the race.”

As those serving cross-culturally we face a whole variety of things that can distract, frustrate, upset or disappoint us. At times we may feel really discouraged and be tempted to give up. Like you I’ve faced some disheartening circumstances and various challenges to my faith and call, even recently. I often return to Hebrews 12:1-3 where we find both stunning reasons to keep running our race and some ways to do that. Whether we’re doing fine or experiencing deep discouragement or uncertainty I hope this will be fuel for the journey, some help to keep us keeping on.

Jesus is worthy. He sits ‘at the right hand of the throne of God’ v2. We keep going because Jesus is worthy of praise, glory and honour that He’s not receiving from most of the people we see around us. If this doesn’t motivate me to keep going then I am definitely not here for all the right reasons. Ultimately what we experience in the course of our race, the trials, the risk-taking, the frustration is worth it first and foremost because Jesus is worth it. Other people’s lack of response to the gospel message must not take my eyes off Him. I can still worship; He is always worthy, always wonderful and faithful. Also, if we think this is about us then we’ll either be proud or feel defeated, both of which hinder us from running our race.

Jesus understands. v3 exhorts us to ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ Jesus suffered way more than we ever will. It’s a huge comfort when I’m weary or discouraged to know that Jesus has been here and has ‘shared in our humanity’, Heb 2:14. Have we been lied to? Taken advantage of? Persecuted for doing what’s right? Misunderstood? Had our loving efforts rejected? Jesus knows. We follow the Suffering Servant and He’s promised to be with us. He understands both us and the broken people around us. This has a way of drawing us nearer to Him as we identify even a little with his sufferings and know he has identified with ours.

Throw off hindrances and sins. Athletes run or play with just the essentials so nothing gets in the way. Is grumbling hindering our teams? Is self-pity weighing you down? Are we neglecting private prayer and worship? Are we giving in to sexual temptation? If it’s pride let’s see Jesus as worthy and as the one who endured the cross. There’s no room left for pride when we’ve seen Jesus for who He is.

It’s a classic strategy of Satan to accuse us and make us feel condemned. V2 says Jesus sat down in heaven. His great work of redeeming us from the power and penalty of sin was done and He’s alive to reign, live in us and work through us. So accept God’s forgiveness anew, remembering we’re free from condemnation and don’t have to carry the burden of sin and failure. I laughed out loud when I first read this from Martin Luther, “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immensely since Christ died for sinners.” Ha! The simple fact of the gospel disarms one of Satan’s best tactics every time.

Some of our hindrances aren’t sinful but they’re distracting or have become idols, taking the place of Jesus in our priorities. Social media may be doing that for some of us. Or ‘ministry success’. To all these hindrances, temptations and sins I’m learning to say: ‘Jesus is better.’ The temporary reward I feel indulging in these things is like dirt compared to the infinite value of Jesus and the satisfaction he alone can bring.

Let’s regularly ask God what hinders us from running the race, confess and repent. Be ruthless and get help. I’ve seen sin lead to people leaving their field of service causing hurt and lasting damage and leading to less ambassadors for Christ reaching the unreached.

Stick together. The use of athletic imagery here and in Paul’s letters isn’t supposed to imply we run solo. ‘Us’ appears several times in these few verses along with ‘we’, ‘our’ & ‘you’ (plural). Clearly it’s written to a group exhorting them to do these things together. Having the support of other believers is crucial to staying on course. The encouragement Ellie and I get being a part of a small team and a house church here is immense. Praying together, sharing struggles, helping each other move house, worshipping together. Are you connected regularly with some supportive fellow runners? People with whom you don’t feel you have to pretend? Christian community is also where we remind each other of the glorious truths of the gospel and can confess our sins and get help with the things that are entangling us.

Pace yourself. That we are to ‘run with perseverance’ (v1) tells us that it’s going to be hard. And that this is a marathon not a sprint. Knowing this we need to pace ourselves. A number of mission organizations encourage their workers to work only 2/3 of the day. If you’re working in the evening, take either the morning or the afternoon off. Also one person’s rhythm is different from another’s. Things like having young children or living with a medical condition or being older also impact on what’s a sustainable pace for different people. Plan rest days or breaks into the coming months.

Fix your eyes on Jesus (v2). Staying focused on Jesus requires us to be intentional. Regular prayer, worship and reading of scripture are key as is fellowship with others who love Him. Rest, exercise, friendships, a healthy work/life balance will all help us keep going but none are as important as our ongoing, close relationship with Jesus. During the Hebrides revival Duncan Campbell wrote:

These are days of much activity in the field of church and mission work, but no amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King himself. The devil is not greatly concerned about getting between us and work; his great concern is getting between us and God. Many a Christian worker has buried his spirituality in the grave of his activity.

Our attention easily moves to ourselves, our organizations, our methods, our shortcomings. We wonder if our faith is big enough or how we compare to others. Problems can seem overwhelming. Regularly, intentionally gazing at Jesus brings right perspective and we start to see what could be instead of what is right now. And if we lose our focus on Jesus we have nothing of lasting value to give to the broken world around us.

Verse 3 indicates that if we ‘consider him’ we won’t lose heart. The recipients of this letter were facing trouble. We face trouble. It can push us toward Jesus. It must if we’re to keep going. It’s challenging to keep loving & keep serving. We’re not supposed to be able to do this without God. We’re going to need to get on our knees before that difficult meeting, about that awkward relationship, about that broken person who doesn’t seem to be changing.

We need vision to keep going. Ultimately Jesus is our vision, over and above whatever particular vision God may have given us for our various different ministries. He’s our source, our sustainer and the giver of our purpose. We can keep running because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Our sin forgiven, a message burning in our hearts, carriers of His presence, secure in our identity. I’m sure also many of us would testify that ministry vision, ideas and inspiration have come when we’ve been seeking Jesus.

Finally, keep an eternal perspective. Heaven is real. Knowing where we’re going changes how we live. Future glory outweighs present suffering for the sake of the gospel. We can face trials, hurt, discouragement, even persecution unto death because we know what’s coming. For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, v2. He knew it was worth it: God would be glorified, we would be redeemed and with Him forever and that coming joy spurred Him on to endure the cross. May both the coming joy of being with Him and the desire that those we serve be there with us spur us on too.

The witnesses in verse 1 are the heroes of chapter 11, and maybe 1000s of others since, who have finished their race. It’s like they cheer us on: “Keep going, keep getting up; it’s worth it! Nothing done in Jesus’ name will ever, ever be in vain!” The sacrifices may be great but the reward will be greater.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON!

Alex

Alex Hawke

Blessed are the Peacekeepers?

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

I recently stayed overnight in a typical British guesthouse where breakfast was an interesting experience.  Not because of the food, service or facilities, but due to the interesting social interaction – or lack thereof.

In a small dining room where guests sat at separate but adjacent tables, conversation was curiously stilted, as people were aware that their private discussions were being overheard.  A men’s football team tried to joke with each other about the previous night’s escapades without incurring the scorn of other guests.  A harassed father tried hard to keep his disobedient toddler under control without losing his temper.  A browbeaten woman took the opportunity to chide her husband at a time when he couldn’t answer her back.

It occurred to me that often conversations between mission partners can be similar.  We often refrain from saying the things that we’d really like to because we are aware that others are listening.  We don’t like to disagree in case we sow the seeds of dissent, or act as a bad witness in front of others.  So we bottle up the things we’d really like to say, and if we don’t blurt them out in a fit of self-indulgence they can build up inside us to such a point of frustration that they contribute significantly to our levels of stress.

Why do we do this?  Because we mistakenly believe that when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” he meant that we shouldn’t rock the boat.  But by failing to address relationship issues and by sweeping things under the carpet, we are not making peace, we are only keeping it.  Peacekeeping may prevent outbreaks of open hostility but it takes real peacemakers to bring reconciliation and harmony.

So how do we make peace?  First, we need to recognise that disagreement isn’t necessarily the same thing as disloyalty or rebellion.  There is such a thing as what the British parliament calls “loyal opposition”.  Somebody who has a theological, missiological or personal disagreement with you may actually love you, share your vision for ministry and be committed to your success.  Disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t on the same side as you.

Secondly, we should remember that leadership can be a lonely and vulnerable place.  Every objection can seem like a personal attack even if it’s intended to be a constructive suggestion.  To a leader, people who speak out can seem like critics, people who oppose can appear to be rebels.  If you’re going to disagree with somebody, ask yourself first how your comments will appear to them, and do your best to show them that you are not challenging them personally, or their position, just their decision.

Third, we should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they may actually be right.  It can be tempting to surround ourselves with people who always agree because it is so much more affirming and comfortable, but it’s also the path to bad decisions.  The person who disagrees with you may actually help you to come to a better decision, even if it can be hard work getting there.

Many mission workers carry unnecessary stress because they feel unable to speak their mind, whether it’s through concern that they might find their service terminated for causing trouble, fear that a person they challenge might lash out at them in pain, or because a misguided sense of loyalty tells them that they ought to agree with everything.  The current trend towards confidential personal debrief with a person from outside the mission worker’s agency is to be welcomed, because it gives mission workers an opportunity to get issues off their chest in a safe environment, and find a constructive way of dealing with unresolved issues.  If your agency does not provide this service, consider asking for it.

Syzygy offers a confidential debriefing service to any mission worker, whether serving with an agency, church network or fully independent.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.  We find that it often helps people see past their immediate frustration and find long-term solutions to unresolved issues.

Spectre

SpectreSpectre, along with the rest of the Bond franchise, thrives on the unique character of James Bond.  Although he is well-equipped with gadgetry, supported by incredible technology wielded by a highly supportive team, the success of the franchise is built around Bond’s own skill, versatility and ability to improvise.  This image portrayed frequently in the genre of espionage movies is quite possibly far from the real truth.

The image of the mission worker as a lone agent battling skilfully and heroically against incredible odds, is also far from the truth, but like Bond, it persists.  Churches talk about ‘our mission worker’ while ignoring the possibility of developing a relationship with the agency, team and local church the mission worker serves alongside.  The mission worker talks in terms of his ministry rather than that of the team or agency.  Candidates head off overseas independently of a sending agency and without having involved their church in the decision-making process.  And when an agency asks someone to lay aside their personal vision and work somewhere else for the good of the team, the mission worker resigns and carries on her work independently.

Such occurrences are not the norm in global mission, but nevertheless are far too prevalent, and Syzygy spends more time than we’d like helping people pick up the pieces after they discover that they’re not 007.  There is also little Biblical precedent for people ruggedly going it alone.  Jesus sent his followers out in pairs (Luke 10:1).  Barnabas and Saul set off to Cyprus as a pair (Acts 13:2), and when they parted they both found new partners (Acts 15:36-40).  Paul went on to build up a large team of co-workers including Luke, Timothy, Titus and several others (2 Timothy 4:-12).  Peter did not go to the house of Cornelius alone (Acts 10:23), and was quickly held to account for his actions by his church when he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:2).  In fact the only successful ‘lone ranger’ in Acts is Philip (Acts 8), and he only went on a short trip.

While pioneering mission may involve periods of solitude, particularly when working in creative access nations, agencies should always seek to send teams wherever possible.  Churches should remember that mission workers remain members away on secondment who need to still be included.  Mission workers should always bear in mind that no matter how individualistic and pioneering they are, they should always be part of a team comprising sending church, family and friends, sending agency and receiving church and agency if there is one.  This team is there to fund, pray, advise, assist and hold accountable.  Failure to put this team in place can result in too much burden falling on the shoulders of the mission worker, who consequently burns out, with bad results for themselves, their family, and the people they were working with and witnessing to.

It might seem spiritual to claim that one person plus God is enough to meet any challenge, but the New Testament church clearly did not believe that.  God calls us to live, serve and go as part of community.

Sleepwalking into obsolescence with due diligence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Source: www.freeimages.com

Last week influential blogger Eddie Arthur kicked off an interesting discussion by suggesting that the Trustees of sending agencies, being by selection and temperament prudent and risk-averse people, are not necessarily the best people to be reimagining the future of mission agencies in an era when massive change is required.  I’d like to take this further and suggest that this issue can apply to leadership at every level: church, agency, field or team as well.

Each leader shares to some extent in the Trustees’ core obligations (as I see it) of ensuring:

  • good governance (Is the organisation operating legally and meeting its key objectives?)
  • effective strategy (Do we know where we are going and how we get there?)
  • good management (Can we achieve the above efficiently and economically?)
  • the well-being of our staff and fellow team-members
  • that the organisation and its members are being an effective witness to Jesus.

Those five issues will keep any leader busy enough without the concerns of all the daily challenges of running a team.  When do they find time to do all that?  And that, coincidentally, was one of the big complaints of managers in the merchant bank which I worked for 20 years ago – they never had time to stop and think!

In an increasingly litigious age, Trustees have been forced by the risk to their own personal assets and liberty to spend ever more time ensuring compliance.  This isn’t in itself wrong, because it is important that issues such as safeguarding and health & safety have top-level buy-in.  But it does leave Trustees spending more of their meetings double-checking on their managers, leaving less time to strategise.  This ‘due diligence’ can lead to the unplanned obsolescence of the agency, unless a crisis occurs to force some urgent rethinking.  Hence the reference to sleepwalking.

One such crisis occurred in 2008.  It sent a shockwave through agencies as they had to grapple with significantly reduced income.  It forced some to consider closing down, or merging with other like-minded agencies.  They have started to pool resources and are making much greater efforts to collaborate with churches as a result of the financial crisis.  Yet this is only the start of a transition away from the 19th century model of missions from the West to the rest into a world with 360 degree mission where agencies become centres of expertise resourcing the sending church rather than sending agencies who do all the work themselves.

But how do we get from here to there if the leadership is bogged down in compliance?  Here are some of our practical suggestions:

  • Team leadership. Ensure that at every level leadership is made up of several people with different personalities and skills who can specialise in addressing different areas of responsibility;
  • Skills analysis. Knowing what resources are available to the leadership team, and where the gaps are, helps to focus the process of recruiting new leaders;
  • Create time. How often do we stop to reflect, pray and dream together?  Leadership teams need space to be able to go on retreat together, do awaydays, and get away from routine management issues;
  • Trust staff. Much of the report-gathering and checking implies that managers can’t get on with their jobs.  If they really can’t, retrain them or move them on, but resist the temptation to waste time micromanaging them.  Leaders have better things to do with their time.

It has been rightly observed[1], that in most Christian organisations, Trustees often spend more time managing than they should.  This means they fail to strategise effectively, so management does strategy on an ad hoc basis and pushes it up the line for approval.  No wonder most of us are sleepwalking.  Let’s wake up and dream where mission is going in the 21st century.

[1] Les Stahlke in Governance Matters (2003)

Do you know yourself “Inside Out”?

InsideOut3DThis year’s summer children’s blockbuster is Inside Out, the latest animation from the Disney/Pixar studio.  With an approval rating of 98% on popular review website Rotten Tomatoes it is well in front of Frozen (89%) and streets ahead of summer rival Minions (54%).

Inside Out follows the story of five different emotions – fear, anger, disgust, sadness and joy – as the 12-year old girl they live in and influence moves house from Minnesota to Los Angeles.  The idea is not necessarily new, having already been seen in Numskulls, Herman’s Head, and Meet Dave, though focussing the attention on the emotions as the primary “head office” staff is new.  The concept originated with Director and story writer Pete Docter who envisioned it having made his own childhood move abroad and subsequently watching emotional changes in his daughter as she grew up, and the scenario is based on the work of psychologists.

Seeing it caused me to reflect on how many mission workers are unaware of the emotions inside them causing them to make knee-jerk reactions to situations and conversations without a full understanding of how key life events, core memories and psychological frameworks interact to affect who we are and what we say and do.  This of course gets even more complicated when we are part of a multi-cultural team whose members probably have very different assumptions about the way the world works and whose emotions are triggered by things they feel strongly about which might not affect us at all.

dark portraitNow add into the mix the fact that most of us are operating under high levels of pressure which can reduce our ability to act or speak rationally, and we can quickly find ourselves being dominated by a negative emotion, or finding ourselves responding negatively to someone else who is.  That one emotion can start to define us and our responses.  This can lead to inter-relational stress, tension and burnout, and ultimately people leaving the mission field because they can’t cope with it any more.

So, without spending years in counselling, what can the average mission worker do to become more emotionally aware?  Here are some tips:

  • Ask yourself which emotion dominates you? Is it one of these five, or is it another one?  (we were rather disappointed that there was only one positive emotion featured in Inside Out, and thought love and hope were sadly missing).
  • If you experience a sudden emotional outburst during the day, ask yourself what may have led up to it. Reflect on whether it was an appropriate response to the incident which triggered it, or a sign of something deeper going on inside you.
  • Discuss the above with a trusted friend – he/she may know you better than you know yourself!
  • Be aware of your emotional state and get to know the warning signs if you are about to lose control. Find ways of defusing your anger and fear, and that of others.
  • Spend time thinking and praying about what may have caused one particular emotion to become dominant in you, and whether it’s right to do something about your past such as repenting of an attitude or choice or trying to restore a broken relationship.
  • Ask God to bring healing into the brokenness of your life, and pray that the Holy Spirit will grow more fruit in you (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23)

And while we’re using movies as the inspiration for understanding our emotions, remember the words of a wise old sage:

Fear is the path to the dark side: fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

(Yoda)

From enemies to team-mates

A typical meeting of a mission team? (source: www.freeimages.com)

A typical meeting of a mission team? (source: www.freeimages.com)

I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped to think about what a disparate group Jesus’ 12 disciples were.  We don’t know about all of them, but we can infer things about them from what we know of their professions and what they are recorded in the Bible as saying.  As we know they included the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James & John (Matthew 4:18-21) as well as a tax collector (Matthew) and a revolutionary freedom fighter (Simon the Zealot*).  Peter was larger than life and James & John clearly had short tempers (Mark 3:17, Luke 9:54).  Thomas possibly had a more cynical nature (John 11:16).  The fishermen, while not necessarily poor (they owned their means of production), were probably what we would now consider skilled labourers, as was Jesus himself, while Matthew would have been significantly wealthy, at least prior to joining the disciples (cf Luke 19:1-10).

Most interestingly, in the politically-charged environment of the occupied Levant, Matthew would have been considered a traitor, collaborating with the occupying power by collecting outrageously high taxes.  Every nationalistic Judaean would have hated him, particularly Simon was a Zealot, a fanatic agitating for radical overthrow of the oppressors.  How on earth did those two manage to get along living alongside each other for three year?  Of course there must have been arguments, but they stuck it out.  And that was before they were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost!

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

I believe there was one crucial factor that drew them together more than their political views would have divided them:  they wanted to be with Jesus.  They wanted to be where he was, and do what he was doing.  And the price they paid for that was to learn to live together.

In many multi-cultural mission teams today there are disagreements over many things: theological, cultural, and social.  They may include questions of missiological practice, ecclesiology, or basic assumptions about what Christian culture is.  These disagreements are significantly exacerbated where there is a clash of personalities, and in any randomly-allocated group of twelve people, there is highly likely to be one person that you don’t get on with.  Dealing with such people can lead to significant levels of stress.

So when we find ourselves in a similar situation, what can we do to make it work?  Here are some simple steps:

  • 1) Look to the bigger picture and recognise that we are all a small part of a large plan
  • 2) Recognise and accept our differences, acknowledging that other people’s different attitudes and values are not necessarily wrong
  • 3) Admit our own sinfulness and self-centredness and ask God to help us become more like him
  • 4) Work hard to understand those we have tension with, learn their story and find out what has made them who they are.

St Paul gives us some helpful hints on our attitude towards those with whom we disagree in Romans 14:

  • Accept one another and do not judge (vv 1, 3)
  • We are all answerable to God for our own attitudes and behaviour (vv 4, 10)
  • Our attitude can cause others to sin (v 13)
  • We are supposed to be building one another up (v 19
  • The Kingdom of God is more important than our disputes (v 20)
Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

I was greatly encouraged when one couple reported to me recently that they were having some difficulty in relating to their co-workers, and ask for prayer not that the colleagues would change, but that they would!  This is a godly attitude which recognises that if we want to be with Jesus, and do the things he is doing, we’re likely to find ourselves with co-workers that we wouldn’t naturally choose.  We can make an issue of this or we can get on with the process of adapting.  I have found myself in a similar situation, working alongside people I would not naturally have chosen to be with, but by getting to know them better they have become good friends.

We don’t know the end of the story of Matthew and Simon.  Perhaps they became the best of friends, or maybe they simply learned to tolerate each other.  Maybe Jesus knocked their heads together a few times before they got the message.  But we do know that they stayed together in the same team for at least three years, and even after the death of Jesus they stayed together for at least 40 days (Acts 1:13).  That is because what united them was greater than what divided them.

* There is much scholarly debate about this term.  Some say it may simply mean that he was enthusiastic, but the Zealots were named by Josephus as a sect of Judaism which advocated armed uprising against the Romans.

Syzygy visits Albania

Not a bad place to play football

Not a bad place to play football

By the time you read this, Tim will be in the air somewhere over Europe on his way to Albania.  Together with some friends from Pavilion Christian Community he is going to be part of a football team working to support a church in Tirana by doing outreach in schools and prisons, building bridges by playing the beautiful game.

It may be that kicking a football around is one of the most effective ways of connecting with people, but we hope this visit will be about more than just having fun together.  We’re hoping that we’ll encourage the Christians and build up the profile of the church in this Moslem country.  We’re praying that we’ll have opportunities to share what Jesus means to us with people who don’t yet know him.  And we would like to be effective ambassadors for Christ among a people who probably have a very misguided understanding of what Christianity really is about.

So please pray for us till we get home again next Friday:

  • Pray that we’ll communicate the message effectively in word and deed
  • Pray that we’ll quickly bond together as a mission team as well as a football team
  • Pray that we’ll have the energy to play a match at least once a day in 30 degree temperatures
  • Pray that we’ll be healthy enough to do all that we need to
  • Pray for grace to cope with situations we may find unusual

Falemnderit!*

 

* Thank you!

Why we need Member Care

too-valuable-to-lose_174_248This month’s guest blogger is Jonathan Ward, Director of the Entrepierres Centre for the Care of Francophone Christian Workers in France.

Back in 1997, the ground-breaking research in Too Valuable to Lose suggested that on a world scale, 5% of missionary personnel leave the field every year, and that 3% (representing 12,000 per year) of the attrition was deemed to be permanent, premature and preventable.  That was before the turmoil we have experienced since 9/11, plus the economic crisis in recent years.  My guess is that attrition rates have significantly increased since then.

Things have definitely changed since my parents went to the mission field in the 1960s.  It has been my observation that there is today an increasing number of missionaries coming from fragmented backgrounds, broken relationships and painful experiences, resulting in poor interpersonal skills, insufficient conflict resolution skills, problems with trust and authority, a distorted view of God, an inadequate theology of suffering, and difficulty with forgiveness.  What does this imply?  A greater need for careful assessment and ongoing care.

Mature? (source: www.freeimages.com)

Mature? (source: www.freeimages.com)

One of the many issues that I see is the failure of missionaries to mature, impacting their relationships and their resilience.  Here is a sample of the symptoms: anger boiling below the surface; feeling easily offended; over-reacting to trivial things; insisting on one’s own way; harbouring grudges.  On the other extreme, they let people walk over them, give in too quickly and let difficulties fester inside, leading to depression or simply giving up.

The issue is character development and spiritual maturity.  I believe these are inseparable, in the sense that one cannot be spiritually mature without being emotionally mature.  For instance, one must be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to come through the storms of life with one’s faith strengthened rather weakened and one’s view of God enhanced rather than diminished.  One also needs to be both spiritually mature and emotionally mature to manage and overcome the hurts and disappointments that inevitably come from working closely with others.

Obviously, mature people are more effective as missionaries and stay longer on the field.  Member Care can contribute helpfully and significantly through counselling, training (such as the Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills workshop, and spiritual direction, coupled with on-going mentoring, accountability and follow-up.

Are you interested in becoming involved in Member Care? Sign up for the Member Care Europe newsletter, and take a look at the events and resources on this website, including the MA in Member Care offered by Redcliffe College. In particular, be sure to attend the European Member Care Consultations that happen every two years. The next one will be from March 14 to 18, 2016.

Jonathan Ward, Entrepierres Centre, www.pierresvivantes.org

Luis Suárez

SuarezThere can be little doubt that Luis Suárez is an excellent footballer.  With a career tally of 40 international goals for Uruguay he is their all-time top scorer,  and he has 220 more in club football.  He has scored six hat-tricks for Liverpool, holding the Premier League record.  In April 2014 he won the PFA players’ player of the year award.  He spectacularly scored both Uruguay’s goals against England in the 2014 world cup, virtually eliminating them.

So it is  disappointing that his skills did not feature at all in Uruguay’s first match of the knockout stage, which they lost 2-0 and exited the competition.  He was already suspended for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, the third time he has been punished for biting an opponent.  All of which goes to demonstrate that character is more important than ability.  You can’t score for your country while you’re in the sin bin.

jawsIn the Bible, we don’t find the 11 disciples selecting candidates to replace Judas Iscariot on the basis of their leadership ability, organisational gifiting or mentoring skills.  They looked for men who had been with Jesus (Acts 1:21).  When Paul tells Timothy what the qualities necessary in church officials are, not one of them is a gifting.  They are all character qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-10).  If Jesus had picked his disciples on merit, he probably would not have accepted any of the twelve, except perhaps Judas Iscariot, who appears to have had some potential.

Which causes us to consider how we select our mission partners.  Are we often so dazzled by the ability of applicants that we are blinded to their character flaws?  Do we focus on the skills we need in the field rather than the character of the person wielding them?  And in the process, are we sending the wrong people, or putting them in the wrong team, and inadvertently damaging the work of the kingdom and causing mission partners to return prematurely because of the excessive stress caused by having the wrong players on the team?  And are latent character flaws in each of us threatening to bring the whole thing crashing down about us as we are accustomed to seeing when a prominent televangelist or famous church leader falls into sin and loses their ministry in the fallout?  As Gerald Coates once said:

What a man builds with his gifting, he can destroy with his character.

Pray for mission workers

prayMany mission workers have a desperate need for prayer – for their health in a part of the world their body didn’t grow up in, safety as they travel on dangerous roads, protection from those who object violently to their mission, the ongoing health of their spiritual life in a hostile environment, family relationships under great pressure, visas, the provision of more funding or co-workers, patience, cross-cultural adaptiveness, the success of their ministry, communication skills in a foreign language and so many more needs both chronic and acute.

They send regular prayer letters to their churches, friends and family, and often wonder if they’re read at all, let alone prayed into.  They seldom get a reply.  They don’t know how often people pray for them.  Sometimes being an overseas mission worker can feel like abseiling without being sure there’s somebody holding the other end of the rope.

912758_hand-holding_1Yet the desire to pray for them is minimal.  Even where prayer meetings for them are arranged, they are frequently poorly attended and are often deadly boring.  There is little originality, seldom use of videos or games to make them a little more lively.  Yet if St Paul asked for prayer, as he frequently did in his letters, how much more do our mission workers need it?

There are in fact plenty of resources available to help inspire us to pray for mission workers.  Most mission agencies produce them, and they’re more than simple prayer letters.  See for example OMF‘s ideas for prayer, or download their helpful guide Seven Ways to Pray for Missionaries.  Alternatively see Eddie Arthur’s helpful booklet praying through the Lord’s Prayer for mission workers.  Most mission agencies also publish prayer diaries and other information to help you pray for their mission workers.

praying handsA couple of weeks ago we invited you to pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send out more workers.  But there are already over 10,000 British mission workers working hard to bring in the harvest.  They need prayer too.  They need our cooperation, our help, our partnership in their mission.  They need us to share their burdens.  And occasionally, when someone prays, a mission worker on the other side of the world feels the clouds of despondency lift, finds miraculous provision for their needs, makes a breakthrough in their ministry.  Prayer is the fuel which powers the engine of mission – without it the mission workers aren’t going anywhere.

Syzygy’s prayer helpline links those with needs to our group of intercessors.  You can ask for prayer at any time by emailing prayerrequests@syzygy.org.uk, and if you’d like to join our team who pray for mission workers, you can do so by emailing pray@syzygy.org.uk.

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.  With thankful hears offer up your prayers and requests to God.

(Philippians 4:6, Contemporary English Version)

Avatar: a metaphor for Generation Y?

avatarThe movie Avatar which came out a few years ago was a milestone in cinema history, not merely for the technology developed specially to produce the effects, but because it was one of the first blockbusters to reflect a postmodern view of the world.  We’ve blogged before about Generation Y, the first postmodern generation, but following a recent conference at which I addressed these issues I thought it would be good to revisit how Generation Y is entering the mission field and impacting their agencies, and to do it using a suitably postmodern metaphor.  To refresh your memories, Baby Boomer represents people born from about 1945-64, Generation X: 1965-1979, and Generation Y those born from 1980-2000.  Obviously, these are extreme generalisations and individuals each have their own personality and giftings which may not collate precisely with these generalisations.

Avatar, if you haven’t seen James Cameron’s epic film, is based around two groups of people, one a tribe – the Na’vi – living on their traditional lands, and group of human invaders who prize the mineral wealth beneath the land.  Its central characters have the vision to reach out to each other across the divide.  While this story has been filleted already for its postcolonial, anti-racist, pantheistic and environmentalist metaphors, it can also be seen as a representation of the potential conflict between Baby Boomer leaders and Gen Y recruits as Gen Y start to enter the mission field in significant numbers.

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Who do the characters represent?  The humans, particularly their leader Colonel Quaritch, represent Baby Boomer senior management, supported by their Gen X workers.  Their lack of compromise in their pursuit of results and their willingness to ignore the needs both of their own people and particularly of others in order to achieve results can represent the uncompromising approach of certain types of mission leaders, fixated on an end goal.  The Na’vi, on the other hand, represent Gen Y, and have many typical Gen Y traits: they value community, are connected not only with each other but with other lifeforms and the planet they live in a harmonious relationship with.  They are clearly spiritual and have a desire to work things through rather than fight things out.  The hero of the movie, Jake Sully, represents an old-style leader who has the courage to change and learn new things, and his love-match Neytiri represents Gen Y who don’t simply give up on old ways but collaborate with Baby Boomers to create a better future.

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

What is the outcome?  The humans are defeated and driven from the planet, not merely because the Na’vi unite and fight back, but because the planet itself turns against them.  This is a metaphor for the unsustainability of the old way of life, but we know the humans will be back.  Whether they will come with more troops or a trade agreement is not made clear – the future is left deliberately uncertain so that we can decide it for ourselves.

What does this mean for us?  In the mission world the situation is reversed – Gen Y is invading (peaceably) the world of the Baby Boomers.  They may well receive an uncompromising welcome, and be told “Things have always been done this way.  Deal with it.”  Their likely response will be not to deal with it but to move on to a more adaptable agency.  This is bad news for the first agency:

any agency unable to welcome significant quantities of Gen Y is ultimately doomed to being unable to recruit new workers.

Jake Sully represents the Baby Boomer/Gen X leader who has the courage to realise that the organisation’s values and processes need to be adapted if they are going to welcome Gen Y.  This means recognising that values different to their own are valid, and that Gen Y can quickly make a significant contribution to the agency’s mission if they are welcomed, listened to, mentored, and allowed to learn and grown through their experiences.

Generation Y are by nature collaborative.  But they too are uncompromising.  They will not wait around to earn the right to participate in the decision-making process.  If the prevailing culture excludes them, they’re not going to wait 20 years till they’re senior enough to change it.  They’re going to start something new.  Some of the newer mission agencies will be inherently more adaptable, while older ones may have more resistance to change.  We have already seens some exciting mergers between old and new (e.g. AWM and Pioneers), and this may be the way forward for other agencies too.  Some form of change is inevitable.

The mission leaders who want to lead their agency into a fruitful future will be bold enough to make room for Generation Y now, before somebody else does.

Setting the pace

Chris Chataway with the Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Chris Chataway with the Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Sir Christopher Chataway, who died last month, may not have been a household name, but had many achievements in the fields of business, broadcasting, politics and athletics.  Together with Robin Day he was the first newsreader on ITN, and he was the first person to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.  He was a Company Director, public servant and Chair of development charity ActionAid.

Chataway was also an accomplished runner, competing in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and winning a gold medal in the 1954 Commonwealth Games and a silver in the European Championships.  Yet one of his most significant achievements was running in a race he didn’t win, and never intended to win.  In 1954 Chataway was one of the two pacesetters for Roger Bannister, when Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Bannister crosses the line in 3:59:4

Bannister crosses the line in 3:59:4

My friend Bob, the Vice-Principal of Springdale College, mentioned to me recently that in a seminar when his students attempted to define leadership, one of them chose the word pacesetter.  I think it fits well.  The pacesetter helps others win.  He initially keeps up a good pace to ensure momentum while helping his followers not to tire too soon.  He has the wisdom to know when to move aside and let others take over the running.  He has the humility to let them finish well while he ends up possibly not even finishing the race.  He has exhausted himself so that others can achieve their best.

It seems so obvious that this analogy also applies to a leader that the point hardly needs to be made.  The leader is not there to take the glory but to help others to do better.  She serves them, not the other way round.  She may be completely forgotten by history while her followers go on to become famous, but if that is what God has called her to do, she has done well.  Jesus, of course, the greatest leader, clearly did that.  He came not to be served but to serve.  He laid down his life for others.  We are all beneficiaries of his sacrifice.

Bannister (centre) thanks Chataway for his support

If you are a leader, please take the opportunity to ask yourself how good a pacesetter you are.  Are you committed to helping your followers achieve, or are you competing with them?  Are you sacrificing yourself so that they can do what God is calling them to do?  And do you know when it’s time to move over and let them run their own race?

In a delicious piece of historical irony, the year in which Bannister broke the four minute mile was also the year in which Chataway won Sports Personality of the Year.  Bannister came second.

What we can learn from Sir Alex

FergieThere can be no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson, who announced his retirement from Manchester United last Wednesday after an incredible 27 seasons, is an extraordinary character. Love him or loathe him, it is impossible to deny his impact on MUFC and his achievement as the club’s most successful manager, despite many other great names having held the same position. He has won the Manager of the Year award more times than any other British manager.  The news of his retirement hit news headlines and front pages, and the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson even did a prime time report analysing his qualities as a leader – ‘I’ve yet to see [a leader] to match Sir Alex’, he commented.

This is something that leaders in mission agencies might want to reflect on. Probably more flawed and controversial than many of us (how many of us have kicked a boot at one of our team members?!), Fergie nevertheless has a number of qualities we would do to emulate:

A long-term view. As well as staying in his post for an incredibly long time (he was MU manager before many of his current players were born!), he has also taken a long-term approach to team development. While the success of the team has often revolved around star players like Keane, Cantona, Ronaldo and Beckham, Fergie has always brought new players in to ensure a broad and deep skill base, even rebuilding the team when necessary. He recognises that his players are only with him for a few years, and he plans beyond that time frame.

Perseverence. It hasn’t always gone well. Some years have yielded no silverware at all, and there have been calls for his resignation, particularly in the early days. MUFC won nothing in his first three seasons, their best result being runner up in the league. But he remained focussed, and over time has delivered an unparalleled collection of trophies. Results are more often delivered over time than in the first few years.

AFAbility to manage volatile people. Let’s face it, most of his players are young, overpaid prima donnas. Many of them have personal issues, particularly with anger. They’re not ideal team players. Their egos can get in their way. Does that sound a bit like your team? Fergie didn’t change them – he channelled them. He gave them a vision of what they could achieve together and enabled them to raise their expectations above their own personal goals.

We should also take note that there are aspects of his character however that are completely incompatible with Christian mission. For example, his leadership style is utterly uncompromising – ‘My way or the highway’ – which while delivering excellent results does not always deliver good relationships. It is widely rumoured that many of his best players ultimately moved on because they didn’t like the changing room environment his iron hand created. But this did not seem to matter significantly to him, since there were always plenty of new players to replace them. As one member care agency comments – The Great Commission should not be fulfilled at the expense of the greatest commandment.

All of his success of course, has been achieved on the back of a massive investment budget which has turned Manchester United from a football team to a global brand. Maybe developing inward investment should be our first priority!

Whether we like Sir Alex or not, or follow his team, we would do well to study his leadership style and cherry pick the best of it. He understands how to motivate and inspire people.

The need for good followers

fishThere has been much paper expended over the years on how to be a good leader, and it’s an important subject.  Without secure, conscientious, compassionate, visionary leaders, our churches and agencies can easily become stressed, fractured and ineffective.  But even the best leaders cannot lead an effective ministry without good followers, and since most of us are destined to remain followers rather than become leaders, it’s good to put some time into discovering how to be good followers rather working on developing leadership potential which may only end in frustration.

Being a good follower used to be equated with not rocking the boat, doing what you were told and not speaking out, but I suspect this definition was peddled by insecure leaders who interpreted every query as a challenge to their personal authority and slapped such ‘rebels’ down hard.  These days the leader/follower relationship is a lot more complex and subtle, with less power being wielded and mentoring and envisioning the order of the day.  So what key values do the followers need to develop in themselves in order to excel at it?

Serve leaders as God’s anointed people.  As mission workers, we often talk about working for God, but then don’t accept the people he appoints as our supervisors.  If they’re his representatives, we should honour them as such (Colossians 3:22-24).  Although that verse technically refers to slaves, it makes the point that inward obedience to those in authority is a godly attitude.

Don’t complain about the problem without being willing to be part of the solution.  We’ve all heard this before, but from a leader’s perspective it’s so much harder to work with someone who says “This isn’t working” than someone who says “I’ve got an idea for how this could work better.”  That person becomes a co-worker rather than a critic.

Following is not transactional.  Too many of us make our following conditional: we follow if we agree.  The Bible doesn’t make a case for blind obedience to godless or foolish commands (Daniel 6:10) but it does make it clear that we should obey and submit to leaders (Hebrews 13:7) and respect them (1 Thessalonians 5:12).  The minute we start thinking “I’ll be a good follower when he’s a good leader” we have stepped outside our God-given brief as followers

YouBeing honest is not being rebellious, but the context and manner of our honesty can be.  There are inevitably going to be times when we disagree, but we can handle it well.  If you feel with all integrity you have a harsh challenge to make, do it in private like Nathan did to David (2 Samuel 12:7).  David’s response could have been ferocious, but he knew Nathan’s love and support for him despite the fierce rebuke.

Leaders need prayer.  It’s easy to believe we’d do a better job than our leaders, but how many of us actually help them to a better job?  Yet as the most prominent members of the community, they have to cope with pressure, demands and spiritual attack (2 Corinthians 11:27-29).  Praying for them helps them (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Buy into a bigger vision than your own personal one.  If you’re going to be an effective follower, you sometimes have to subordinate your own plans to those of the leader.  For 40 years in the wilderness Caleb dreamed of owning the land he had seen when as a spy he had sneaked into Canaan, but he didn’t make a rush for it as soon as the invasion started.  He waited a further five years until the invasion was over before he asked for it.  He had helped secure other people’s inheritance before he gained his own. (Joshua 14:6-15)

elephantsIf you have to leave, you leave alone.  There may come a time when it’s right to leave, but that doesn’t mean leading a rebellion.  When David had to leave Saul’s court for the sake of his life, he didn’t take his friends with him or make an announcement, he just quietly slipped away. (1 Samuel 19:11-18)

Much effort has gone into analysing the leadership style of Jesus, and devising universal rules of management from the results.  Yet the management gurus always overlook the fact that Jesus, too, was a follower.  The perceptive centurion observed that Jesus was a man ‘under authority’ (Matthew 8:9), and Jesus said he didn’t come to do his own will, but the will of ‘him who sent me’ (John 5:30).  He even said he didn’t speak on his own initiative (John 12:49).

The more closely we follow in the footsteps of the world’s greatest follower, the more we will become better followers of God, and the leaders he appoints over us.

In a future blog we will discuss how to act righteously when dealing with a destructive of manipulative leader.

Appearance is everything

As I walked past a hairdresser’s recently and read its tagline – Appearance is Everything – I rejoiced that Christians don’t have to buy into this myth (partly because my own appearance certainly isn’t everything).  Christians understand the old maxim that appearance is only skin deep.  We know that what’s on the inside is more important than the outside.

So why do we continue to live our lives as if we believed that appearances really are everything?

I’m not talking about dressing to impress or buying showy new stuff so that we can look wealthier than we really are.  I’m talking about the tendency we have to over-inflate the significance of our ministries.  How many church leaders have not faced the temptation to massage the numbers?  How many mission workers haven’t felt the need to overstate the number of converts?  Or do we simply drop names into the conversation so that others will know how significant we are: “As the Archbishop said only last week….”

There is an extent to which we all have to face up to the need to perform.  If we are going to be accountable, and make sure that we are making the most of the prayer, finance and encouragement we draw from our supporters, we have to find a way of demonstrating that what we are doing is worthwhile.  That very easily can revert to just numbers.  The church has more members so it must be going well.  We hit our targets.  But numbers have their limits.  How many followers did Jesus have when he died?  Probably just 120.  Failure?

The need to perform creates a negative cycle in the life of mission workers.  Having performed well they receive praise (possibly an unusual experience for them).  This motivates them to achieve more, and more, and more, until they become exhausted by trying to achieve too much.  And so burn out.  Many mission workers I deal with are exhausted by this inner drivenness.  David Ellis wrote:

“Driven relentlessly without recognizing the symptoms, we have become infected by the disease of activism.  It is easy to hide barrenness behind a charade of busyness.  To rely on activity, plans and strategies to cover spiritual bankruptcy.” (quoted by Tony Horsfall in Rhythms of Grace).

This drivenness and emptiness in many mission workers needs to be exposed (lovingly and supportively) and addressed.  It leads to stress and, ultimately, attrition.  Each of us needs to address the issues of who we are trying to impress, each mission agency needs to create a context in which it helps promote the ongoing spiritual development of its members alongside evaluating their performance, and each church needs to support, encourage and be committed to mission workers who don’t deliver obvious results.

There are many intangibles involved in our work: community impact, increasing knowledge of God among our members, growing Christlikeness in us, increasing influence of the church in society, and many more.  We need to devise ways of showing this in our feedback and appraisal systems in order to encourage one another to rise above counting heads.  Not long ago I had to do a ‘performance appraisal’ and took the opportunity to reinforce my view that I wanted to appraise who my colleague is, not what she does.  It was very hard, particularly when faced with statistical targets.  But with careful preparation I was able to say things like ‘I liked your attitude in this situation’ and ‘You dealt with that difficult issue with grace and humility’.  I affirmed who she was rather than what she did.  And now she knows that I care more about her than the results that she delivers.

Appearance is definitely not everything.  There is a lot going on under the surface and if we focus on superficial issues we will not be developing stronger people, we’ll be creating performers.  It should not be necessary to exaggerate the numbers if we are secure in our identity and have good supportive relationships with sending agencies and churches who recognise that sometimes God does more in us than he does through us.

So let’s stop counting heads.  And we all know that name-dropping is a bad habit.  The Archbishop said so only last week…

Mentoring for mission

Mentoring is effective in focussing on God’s activity in the life of the mission worker

Many mission workers do not go to the field expecting to become leaders within their own organisations.  They go because they want to plant churches, do student work, or fulfil any of a number of other frontline roles.  Yet after a couple of terms they find themselves among the longest-serving people in their team, and are given a team leadership role.  Yet they may not have the management skills and leadership gifting to help them in their role as junior management.  Their previous life may not have involved any management training, and they might not have had much opportunity to develop any leadership skills they have.

This has negative consequences for them and for their team.  Uncomfortable in their role, and somewhat guilty that they’re no longer doing the job they felt they were called to, they can either resort to an authoritarian leadership style, or abdicate their responsibility which leaves their team without direction.  The whole team suffers and leaders burn out quickly.

Rick Lewis

Syzygy’s response to this situation is to start developing a suite of management and leadership training packages for people in just these situations: to help them feel comfortable with their role in leadership, have the necessary management skills to do it well, and to develop the leadership gifting to inspire and lead their team effectively.  The first package to be release involves mentoring for leadership and we are happy to introduce you to the services of experienced leadership mentor Rick Lewis.  Rick is an extremely experienced church leader and mentor who has successfully mentored leaders all over the world.  He is also the author of the highly-praised book Mentoring Matters.  He divides his time primarily between Australia and England, but also travels to other parts of the world.  His mentoring is done by both face-to-face discussion and remote conversation by internet.  Rick writes:

Leaders in Christian organisations face a particular set of challenges that arise from factors such as high ideals, limited resources, diverse and often irreconcilable demands and relational volatility in teams and personal isolation.  Spiritual mentoring brings the focus back to God’s agenda, reminding the leader of God’s wisdom and power and encouraging a faithful response to His grace.  Space is created for spiritual discernment out of which the leader plans positive action and agrees to be held accountable by the mentor.  Each mentoring relationship is tailor-made to respond to the unique circumstances of the leader and is designed to help the leader be sharper, stronger and more resilient.

Mentoring is becoming an increasingly popular activity among missions leadership as a development tool, but the challenge to agencies who are recommending it is that it cannot effectively be done by a colleague or manager.  The availability of high-quality, independent mentors is severely limited.  Syzygy’s involvement in this field provides a significant development.  While Rick’s services are not free, we believe they are good value for money as an investment in your future management ability.  For further information contact Rick via his website anamcaraconsulting.

Featured Ministry: Member Care Media

We have mentioned before in these pages the extraordinary ministry of Member Care Media, which provides a valuable service to mission workers worldwide.  A project of TWR, Member Care by Radio (as it was originally named, was set up to provide a daily radio broadcast aimed specifically at the needs of cross-cultural mission workers in places where they were physically beyond the reach of regular and proactive member care.

With the arrival of the digital age, the project became Member Care Media, though the basic concept remains unchanged.  Each recorded ‘broadcast’ is now available to listen to online, with some of them also featuring as transcribed articles, and an entire library is available on the website for you to browse through.  They cover a range of subjects including emotional health, family, short term mission, cross-cultural living and working, teamwork, leadership and TCKS, and are all dealt with by professionals working in the relevant field.

While the broadcasts are aimed primarily at people working in a cross-cultural context, there is a wealth of resource available on emotional health, marriage and leadership which will be of use to all Christians in helping them cope with the demands of their life and ministry.

We suggest that you may like to use these broadcasts as part of your regular times of self-maintenance.  They are all fairly short, so listening to each daily broadcast might be a bit demanding on your time, but it’s not unfeasible to listen to one a week.  Couples could listen together to ones about marriage and family, and work teams could listen to the ones about teamwork and use them as a basis for discussion afterwards.  Small groups could use them as part of their devotional times together.

This collection of resources by some of the member care sector’s most prominent practitioners is too good to be kept a secret!