Jesus Sweets

I’m privileged to be in India meeting with GMI’s long-time friends and those we serve through mapping and research tools. What a blessing to hear how the Church in India is growing and how ministries are using research to make Spirit-led decisions about how to move forward.

I was sitting with Richard Howell, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and talking about what he is seeing as the Church grows in India. We talked about a variety of trends and big picture items, but one story he shared stuck with me as an example of transformation.

We were talking about the fact that there is little separation between religion and other areas of life in India and Richard shared about a man in a village that came to know Jesus. This man sold sweets for a living. Others selling sweets would label them with names that connected to their faith - Krishna Sweets for example. As the man began to process his faith decision and what God would have him do to live out that faith, the answer was easy. If there could be Krishna Sweets, why can’t there be Jesus Sweets!

So that is exactly what he did. Now all the sweets he sells come bearing the name of Jesus! This man found a way to bring his faith and his life together and see it as one testimony to his Savior. Are we doing the same? Are we integrating our faith, family, work, recreation, relationships and hobbies together in such a way that they represent our Savior?

I would encourage you to ask that question today and then ask God to give you the wisdom as you strive to represent God in every area of your life.

Weighing Our Words

“We need to be freed from the oppressive judgements or expectations of others that limit our ability to hear and respond to God’s voice for us.” Gordon Smith

Sometimes it is the voices of others that keep us from hearing God clearly. Did you ever think that your voice could actually drown out God’s direction in someone’s life, or that others could hamper our ability to hear God?

It is a scary thought to consider, isn’t it? We have a much greater responsibility towards fellow travelers on this Kingdom path than we are usually willing to concede. But in those quiet moments when we think back to the words we have spoken that day, we can be honest with ourselves.

Many times our words do not draw people closer to God’s heart and thus His will for their lives. In those moments, our words are spoken for selfish or thoughtless reasons rather than selfless reasons.

A friend might be trying to pick between a job in town or one half a continent away. As they are seeking God’s will, and turn to us for input, we could easily share from our selfish desires to see them stay close by rather than our desires for God’s will to be done in their lives. Our words could have a huge impact on the next phase of their life.

What words did you speak today? Did any impact the decisions of others? If so, was your impact Kingdom-focused or YOU-focused?

 

A Decision to Trust

As you start this week, you have a very foundational decision to make. On this one decision, the rest will rise or fall. It is not a tactical decision about what you should or should not do. Instead it is a relational decision. It is a decision of orientation.

Solomon spoke of this in his third Proverb. As he sets the stage for how someone should live their life, he states clearly “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Solomon goes on to talk about how we should not be wise in our own eyes but we should focus on God. He is challenging his charge to reorient life around the God of the Universe rather than around his own strength, skills or ideas.

We need this same reminder as we begin another week. We need to orient our lives God and His agenda and trust Him to guide the activities of the week. That decision does not mean we do not plan or be intentional in our work.

Our decision to trust means that all of our plans and intentional actions flow out of waiting expectantly on God and depending wholly on Him. Our pastor said it this way in this weekend’s service, “It is always a bad idea to try and do God’s work for him.”

When we design our plans and rely on our strength, we do the work that only God can do well. We take His job and do a poor job of it!

Why is it so hard for us to hold off on the action and let God lead in our lives? Part of it is that letting others lead is seen as laziness. We look like we are without initiative or drive. Another reason this is a challenge is that when we don’t make the plan, we don’t always get our way.

But what does it look like to make the first decision of our week to trust God with our efforts? I’m not very good at it, but I’m committed to learning as I serve through GMI. So here is a real-life example:

We are going to be hosting an event and we have sent out an initial invitation to gauge interest. Tomorrow we need to send out a full invitation but I am still not sure whether we will have enough people to attend. My natural response is to push through and force the event to work. I have done that many times in the past. This time, I’m going to take a different tact.

  1. I have been praying with the coordinator and asking God to show us the right direction for this event.
  2. I am going to write two emails before we make the decision – one announcing the event with all the details and the other modifying the event.
  3. When I have my meeting in the morning to plan our next steps, I’m going to come to the meeting having prayed asking God to direct our plans and show us His will through the details, pricing, participation and personal input of those planning it.
  4. I am going to listen to my team and to God more than I am going to talk myself.

So will you decide to trust as you start the week? Will you make trusting God your first decision rather than an add-on? If so, how? Share your plans very practically here and ask the GMI community for prayer as you seek to make this important decisions!

Why Don’t People Bounce?

Resilience: the ability to bounce back

What happens when something doesn’t bounce? It falls flat!

Most things in this world do not bounce. In fact, that is true of people as well. We are more likely to fall flat on our faces than bounce. You have to look no further than the many bloopers videos to see people falling on their faces.

But that doesn’t stop with comical YouTube videos. Throughout history and Scripture we have seen countless people fall flat on their faces and fail. I think of Lot’s wife as she turns towards her old home or Saul’s pride as his kingdom fell apart.

So if we usually fall flat, what does it take for us as Kingdom workers to bounce back? I attended a conference called Colab 2013 in Chicago last week where we talked about resilience and what it takes to continue on even when we experience significant blockers or trials. Two points stuck out in our discussion:

1. Allowing failure: We have to make failure acceptable if we are to survive long-term. If the only possible outcome of our endeavors is stunning success, we will be set up for defeats that we cannot handle or deal with constructively.

2. Feedback loops: If we do not have many different kinds of feedback loops set up within our lives, it will be very hard to handle the ups and downs of leadership. But if we are getting input and making corrections, we can maneuver through those times that might leave others lying on the floor in pain.

As I have thought about this idea of resilience over the past few days, I realize that I want it badly. I don’t want the result of my efforts to lead to a dramatic “made-for-TV” ending. Instead, I want to be in a place where I am able to respond to my situation, understand my reality and make the Spirit-led decisions that God expects of me.

Are you resilient or are you trapped in a world

 

When the Facts Decieve Us

Many a crusty reporter on deadline has uttered the words, “Give me the facts . . . just the facts!” We are constantly drilling down to what we hope is the core information about the situation at hand. We interview, test, verify and analyze the information at hand in a genuine effort to find the truth.

But sometimes the facts don’t lead to the truth. Sometimes we are decieved by the very tangible and real information presented to us. When this happens it shakes us to the core. And that is exactly what happened to Joshua and the people of Israel soon after they entered the Promised Land.

In Joshua chapter 9 we are confronted with an example of deciept and cunning that is impressive while also shocking. The Israelites were recently finished redeeming themselves from the debacle in Ai where they initially lost becaue of sin in their camp when they were presented with another critical moment of decision.

The Gibeonites realized they would die if they fought Israel, so they planned a trick. They pretended to be a delegation from a far-away country coming to make peace with Israel. They took great pains to look the part, bring old and moldy food and give every reason for the Israelites to believe them. The facts were in their favor . . . not because they were true but because they were intentionally being deceptive.

So as the Israelites processed the Gibeonite’s story and considered how they would respond they had two real choices. They could go with the facts as told to them by this delegation or they could start by seeking God and allow the facts to fit into the conversation as He guided.

The Israelites chose the first. Joshua 9:14 says, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” And because of their choice they inherited a who group of people who came to live among the Israelites as slaves. These and people like them brought their gods and beliefs into the Israelite communities and caused incalculable harm as God’s people turned away from His teachings to follow the gods of the local tribes.

The facts in this story were not unimportant, but they were not the whole picture either. Most of the time in our decision-making we start out with the facts and ask God to bless our findings. But Spirit-led decision-making requires us to start with the Spirit and then allow the facts to be part of the process that He guides.

This will take more time, it will seem less professional and it will not be as easy to control . . . and all that is good. The facts give us a false sense of control over the decisions in our lives. We need to release the facts to God and allow Him to use them in the decision-making processes that confront us.

Think about the last decision you made where the facts decieved you. Did you make that decision in the Spirit? What was your process? Learn from the past and commit to allowing the Spirit to guide your processing of facts and figures!

Retreating to “activity in unimportant things”

Bonhoeffer was sitting in New York during the summer of 1939 while Germany burned . . . and it was killing him.

There were things of great significance that he knew God wanted him to say and do but because of the situation in Germany he had retreated to Union Seminary in New York. The retreat was well intentioned and in a spirit of protecting those around him, but it was a retreat all the same.

But as Bonhoeffer began his time in New York, he knew he had to return. In his diary he said, “This inactivity, or rather activity in unimportant things, is quite intolerable when one thinks of the brethren and of how precious time is. The whole burden of self-reproach because of a wrong decision comes back again and almost overwhelms one. I was in utter despair.” (Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas, pg. 330)

Many of us routinely suffer the “activity in unimportant things” that Bonhoeffer describes. We have retreated from the things God cares about and are fully engaged with small things that we can control and that God has no interest in being a part of.

Sometimes we retreat because we lack the courage for the Kingdom work. Other times it is a retreat after years of work with little fruit. Still other times we retreat for good reasons but not Godly ones. Whatever the reason, retreat always leads to the unimportant.

As you begin this week, ask yourself whether your decisions are leading you forward into God’s Kingdom or whether they are beating a path of retreat for you into a world of your own making. If you are walking towards the Kingdom, your time may be hard but it will be meaningful.

If you have retreated into your world, don’t despair. Recognize the unimportant around you and ask yourself where you turned around. Just like Bonhoeffer got back on that ship and returned to Germany in the face of war, persecution and ultimate death, God will give you the courage to get back on the path towards Kingdom significance.

To retain missionaries, help them keep their CHIN UP

Retention of field staff is a key effectiveness issue for mission sending entities. In The Future of the Global Church (p227) Patrick Johnstone notes that “the period most likely to prove fruitful in cross-cultural church-planting ministry” is between the eighth and 17th years of field service.

Retention is also a key stewardship issue, as the costs of recruiting, qualifying, training, funding and sending a cross-cultural worker are vastly front loaded (incurred before sending and in the early stages of field ministry).  This is true regardless of the worker’s country of origin.  From a financial perspective, sending costs are “amortized” over a worker’s tenure on the field—the longer the tenure, the more cost-effective the sending process.

While it is true that when missionaries need to leave the field, allowing them to stay on can be damaging (personally, organizationally and ministerially), the general principle remains: encouraging and equipping workers toward longer tenures is a worthy goal.

A few weeks ago I spoke to prospective cross-cultural workers on “How to Become an Ex-Missionary…Or Not.” The research supporting the talk came from the qualitative module of the Engage study (fielded 2006 and 2007), which GMI did in partnership with Best Christian Workplaces Institute and Rob Hay, now principal of Redcliffe College.

A bit of backstory before getting to five key retention factors for North American cross-cultural workers.

The Engage research was initiated by the WEA Mission Commission as a North American follow up to the global ReMAP and ReMAP II studies on attrition and retention, which led to the publication of the useful books Too Valuable to Lose and Worth Keeping.

The ReMAP studies did a great job of outlining best practices in missionary retention on a global scale, as well as in drawing attention to the issue.  For example, the 60-plus agencies participating in the U.S. portion of the studies could be divided into virtually equal groups based on retention.  High-retention agencies averaged 97.4 percent retention annually, while the low-retention group averaged 90.4 percent.  When compounded over a decade, the high-retention rate projects to 77 percent of non-retired workers remaining on the field, while the low-retention rate projects to only 37 percent remaining.  You can read the source report here.

Still, there was one significant problem with the ReMAP studies: no current field workers were interviewed, only agency administrators.  We first got involved when the ReMAP II U.S. study coordinator asked GMI to review the U.S. data.  Certain variables appeared to yield counter-intuitive results—meaning agencies that rated themselves as high performers in certain dimensions actually had lower retention than those that rated themselves as lower performers.  How could this be?  Easy—self-evaluation often produces results such as these due to differences in standards.  Highly effective organizations typically have very high standards.  Therefore, they see more room for improvement than do their peer organizations.

The solution: don’t self-evaluate.  Allow others—in this case, current and former field missionaries—to rate how well a sending organization equips and supports them.

That’s what we did in the Engage study.  The quantitative module surveyed more than 1,700 current field staff from 17 organizations.  Results verified that an organization’s retention rate correlates positively with the attitudes of current field staff.  That finding refutes the hypothesis that ex-missionaries are merely can’t-hack-it, sour-grapes misfits who needed to be weeded out.  Rather, an agency’s missionaries reside along a likelihood-to-stay continuum.  The better an agency’s vision, leadership, training, policies and support, the less likely workers are to fall off of the attrition cliff.

The qualitative module compared the experience of more than 40 current field missionaries and more than 40 ex-missionaries who had left before retiring or completing a fixed assignment.  Questions asked of both groups included open-ended inquiries about factors that encourage or discouraged continuing service.

Group comparisons of coded responses yielded five key encouragement factors (as well as six key discouragement factors).

I remember those five encouragement factors through the acronym CHIN UP:

CH      A strong sense of personal CALLING and HOPE from God

I          A feeling of INCLUSION in team/agency decision making

N        A perception of great spiritual NEED among the people being served

U        A sense of personal USEFULNESS, regardless of visible ministry progress

P        A strong sense of God’s PROVISION via the prayer and generosity of others

Agencies and their member care departments will do well to regularly check the pulse of their field staff in those key areas.

Want to know more about applying insights from Engage?  Contact us at GMI about speaking to or consulting with agency leadership and/or member-care staff on retention issues.  We also love to speak with future missionaries about how they can prepare to avoid becoming ex-missionaries.

Also, agencies can sign up to do the Engage survey with your current field staff.  Best Christian Workplaces offers the survey at a very reasonable cost, using a sliding scale based on the number of field workers invited to take part.  It is a great investment that also adds to an ongoing database of learning about retention.  Please let them know that you heard about Engage from GMI.

 

 

Are You Serving in a Cause or Trapped in an Agenda?

Cause: a charitable undertaking <for a good cause>*

Agenda: an underlying often ideological plan or program <a political agenda>*

Most Christian workers want to participate in causes but end up pushing agendas. This has to do with how we approach the work God gives us to do. In Galatians 5:25 Paul says that, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Engaging in one of the causes that God cares about and allowing that work to grow as the Spirit leads is far different than identifying a need in the Kingdom and then building our own solution in order to solve the need. In one we allow the Spirit to remain in control and in the other we take the reins and drive the process.

There is a fundamental difference between a cause and an agenda. Sadly today they are almost seen as synonyms. A cause is an area of God’s work in the world that has room for many actors and many approaches. Examples of Biblical causes can be seen in Eric Foley’s book The Whole Life Offering. Click here to see his chart describing the various causes at work in God’s Church. An agenda is a personal tool and is designed to benefit others only as they come in line with the one who holds the agenda. We see examples of agendas everywhere. Whether it is a politician who is pushing a certain approach to government reform or a ministry pushing a specific strategy for Church planting, both are agendas that the entities have designed around specific needs that their political parties or organizations have.

But even though agendas don’t leave much room for God’s Spirit or work, agendas are popular because:

1) they are personality driven and we like to align with people we agree with
2) they are programmatic and easy to get our hands around
3) they reduce ambiguity and affirm a certain solution to a known problem.

Causes, on the other hand, are based on value systems and perceived needs. They don’t prescribe a solution to the problem but instead create a context and define values by which the problem can be addressed. These are much more powerful than agendas because many people can join a cause and tackle the issues at hand from a variety of angles. They are free to respond to the Spirit in the context of the ministry challenge.

The sad truth is that many people start out joining a cause and then quickly get trapped in an agenda. This happens because our consumer society demands that we package, design, distinguish and brand our particular contribution in order to be a valid and affirmed solution to any given problem. This is what we involved in Kingdom work must resist.

As we actively join in and engage with the causes that God cares about, we must keep our hands open as to how they will be addressed. God can use anyone from any part of His Kingdom to bring His love to this troubled world. We must be prepared to embrace those who are in step with the Spirit and encourage anyone who is obediently responding to His call.

*From The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Discerning Together

Most decisions take more than one perspective. They come from a rich flow of input pouring out of people with very different backgrounds and approaches to the problem at hand. I think that is one of the reasons that God gave us the Church. He knew that participating in the forward march of the Kingdom would require us to take bold action in ways that were not understood by those outside of The Way. We would lack the confidence to make the decisions we needed to all on our own.

So the Church brings together people from all different personalities, walks of life and perspectives. God is at work in each person and is helping them to grow closer to Himself as they respond in obedience to their Savior.

It is in this rich environment that we Christians find ourselves placed. God calls us to discern what is right as we look to Him, study His word and work it out in community. We cannot discern His will completely without this holy input from those He has put in our midst.

Just today I found myself experiencing this very thing. One person in our community had been confronted with a decision. She wisely realized that it was not hers to make alone and brought it to a group of people who were part of the narrative. As we prayed, discussed and questioned together, an answer formulated. We left our time together feeling much more confident in what had to be done and I truely felt God’s direction in our decision.

I worry that this part of discernment is often being ignored today. We value the decision that comes from a mountain-top experience or a gut-level intuitive response much more than a decision that comes out of community. The individuality of most decisions almost ensures that they will be lopsided and out of balance.

Do you value making decisions with others? Do you see their input as part of God’s communication to you in the process?

If you have looked to a group to seek discernment, I would love to hear the story of how God used the experience.

The Evidence of Insight

How do you know when someone has made a brilliant guess or a well-thought out decision? They might look just the same from the outside but underneath, the process of achieving each would have been very different. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with making well-placed guesses based on intuition. In fact, many times that is what must be done. But I would like to look for a moment at some of the evidences of a decision thoughtfully considered.

1. Witnesses: People will know about your thinking before the decision is public. Why is that? Simply put, a thoughtful decision usually involves getting input from friends, experts, mentors and the like.

2. Options: In most decisions that have been considered in depth, there will have been several options that were tested and prayed through before the final choice was made.

3. Situations: Insight draws heavily from the real-life situations going on around the area of decision.

4. Passion: If the decision is important then there will be passionate opinions working their way into the process. These passions represent vision, ambition, excitement and desire to make a difference.

5. Information: When a well-thought out decision is being made, the actors will have quality information to guide their thinking.

Now that I have laid out these seemingly obvious evidences of good decision-making, consider a decision you are wrestling through. Are these things present? If so, list them out so you can see them at work. If not, ask yourself why and what you are going to do about it!