Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm offended!

I'm not really offended, but a lot of people are. There are a lot of people carrying around a sack full of grudges slung around the chip on their shoulder. It really amazes me how easily we allow ourselves to be offended on the one hand, and how careless we are with our words on the other. I'm sure that each of us has been on both ends of this equation from time to time in our lives. I think it's worth addressing for that reason alone, but also because of the tremendous damage that is done to families, churches and communities over this thing called offense.

When we drill down into the root cause of much of the damage, we often find that it stems from a misunderstanding; and that usually springs from poor communication. So, what I'd like to do is talk a little bit about communication in this blog. For those of you who have sat through my pre-marital counselling, consider this a review.

Let's first state that this is a very serious problem, whether within Christian circles or otherwise. I'm going to come at this from a Christian perspective however. If we take the Bible seriously, we first have to admit that all of the dissension is, very simply, wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." That's pretty clear, but if it's not strong enough, try Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

So it's important to get along, but how best can we do that? I've found that there are a few keys that have worked well for me that I've picked up over the years. The most important is something called "good will." Good will is really a frame of mind. It's the assumption that the person that we're dealing with means well and wants the best for us. It may be naive, but I find that it's a lot better than trying to pick a fight with everybody I talk to. When we have good will, we're giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

This attitude leads to a healthy internal dialogue. When someone says something that strikes us the wrong way, instead of assuming they're being a jerk and reacting accordingly, thus escalating the situation, we instead can look for a way to get to the root of the problem. I find this is particularly helpful in marriage situations. We often fall into bad habits of fighting to win an argument, rather than trying to communicate. Our spouse will say something that strikes us the wrong way, and we immediately jump to the defensive. They then get defensive and round, round we go. Try this instead. Ask yourself whether you heard them correctly. After all, haven't we all been misunderstood before? Wouldn't we have appreciated it if someone had given us the benefit of the doubt and dug a little deeper?

Communication is a complicated thing sometimes. An idea may be completely clear in my mind, but by the time it's filtered through my vocabulary, out my mouth, into your ears, filtered through your vocabulary and assigned a meaning by you, chances are it's not exactly what was intended. So, communication should really be defined as "a meeting of meanings." When what I intend to say is what you understand me saying we've communicated - maybe not agreed, but communicated.

So in order to be a better communicator, try to apply this time-honoured principle: "Seek first to understand then to be understood." For many people, what they're really looking for is simply to be heard. You never know, you might actually learn something. I've found that if you dig deeper when having a disagreement with someone, you may not be as far apart as you thought.

Another principle to remember at times is that on some points you may just have to agree to disagree. Some wise man said that "If you make everything a life or death issue, you're going to be dead a lot." Please admit that you're not always right. In fact, those of you who think you're always right are extremely offensive to those of us who actually are! It's alright to hold a position that is different from someone else. Just be sure that you're respectful of the other person's right to hold theirs.

Admit when you're wrong. I understand this is hard for some, but when everyone else knows you're wrong, you might as well admit it and apologize. People will not think less of you, quite the opposite actually. They will appreciate your honesty. A sincere apology can go a long way to repairing damaged relationships.

Jesus said, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) Each of us wants to be understood. We want for people to think well of us. We want people to try to get along with us, to be loved, to be valued. Do yourself a favour, reach up and take the chip off your shoulder and smile at the next person you meet, it's likely they're having a bad day. Help make it better.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iron Sharpens Iron

This week I've had a number of people express to me their need for a mentor and asking me how they go about finding one. Because I value the art of mentoring so highly, I wanted to talk a little bit about this. Generally, where a few are asking, many are feeling the need. Let me begin with some general principles that I've picked up over the years.

Everyone needs mentoring.
Asking for a mentor is not an admission of failure or weakness, it is an expression of a willingness to learn. Someone stated that "the self-taught man has a fool for a teacher." Each of us has room to grow and mature in various aspects of our lives. Mentors can be a great benefit to help us grow.

Mentors aren't perfect.
If you're looking for the complete package, the person who has the right answer to every question, you'll be looking for a long time. The reality is that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.

You may want more that one mentor.
Different people have different strengths. You may look to one individual to help you in a certain area of your life, say finances for example. You may choose another mentor for advice in helping you with your relationships. You also may actually outgrow a mentor. In that case, maintain the friendship but find someone else who can take you to the next level. A wise mentor will see this coming and perhaps even recommend someone else.

When you choose a mentor, reach up.
What I mean is this: the point of mentoring is to help you improve. Reach out of your circle. Aspire to a better place than you are today. Look for the best possible mentor and take a risk. Which leads to the next point.

When I was making the transition from my previous church to Clearview Community, I had to attend some orientation meetings for my new denomination. The sessions were lead by the then District Superintendent, Bill Morrow. Bill and I had crossed paths a few times. He had a background in counselling and had been a successful pastor and leader for years. One of his sessions was on mentoring. At the end of the session he said that while he heard a lot of people talking about needing a mentor, he did not see a lot of people asking. So, I asked.

That was 14 years ago, and since that time Bill moved on to be the General Superintendent of the PAOC and is now the President of Masters College and Seminary. I have met with him over the years - usually when I've been in a crisis of decision or needing advice on how to face a ministry challenge. He has always been there when needed and has often referred me to someone who could help me in a specific way... But I had to ask.

How does one find a good mentor?
Firstly, if you're a Christian, pray that God would guide you to the right individual(s). Another key is to ask the right questions. What exactly is it that you're looking for help with? Identify that need. Is it with life in general? Is it with developing your spiritual life? Is it leadership? Is it in family life?

Once you've asked the right questions, look around you for someone you admire in that particular area. Make sure that they share the values you feel are important. Do you honestly feel that they have something they could teach you and are you willing to listen?

Buy them a coffee or a cup of tea and ask them. Talk about how you see this working and how often and ask them if they're interested. Don't set anything in stone until you've given enough time for both of you to determine that it's something you want to pursue. Think about what you bring to the table. Perhaps that means buying them lunch once a month or at least expressing your appreciation.

Finally, look around you for someone into whom you could pour yourself. We ought to be reaching up to those who can teach us, but also reaching down to those who are now where we were. I believe that this is true ministry. It is a picture of Biblical community that is uniquely powerful and attractive. We can teach people from a distance, but we impact them up close. I hope this has been of some benefit to someone. Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Season Of Silence

"To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace."

- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

If you're a part of the Clearview Community Church family you will likely already have heard that I am having to take an extended break from preaching and singing. I have small callouses on my vocal chords which have limited my singing range for a while and are now affecting my speaking voice. So, the prescription is vocal rest and vocal therapy. So this is a time for me to stop talking!

I appreciate all of the wisecracks and the offers of duct tape, etc... I also appreciate all of the concern. However, I would like to say that it's not all that bad. I can talk, I'm just not supposed to. I have heard horror stories of pastors who have permanently and completely lost their voice. We're certainly not in that ballpark, thankfully.

The plan is for me to take a break from all of those tasks which would put a strain on my voice for the next few months. That includes singing, preaching and counseling. If results aren't seen by May, we'll take a look at laser surgery as a worst case scenario. I'm very thankful for a supportive board and capable staff who will allow the work of the church to carry on uninterrupted.

So, what will I be doing with myself?
The way I look at it, God is not surprised by this and, therefore, there's something I can do to be productive during this time. The reality is that this time gives me a great opportunity to focus on a lot of things which have been neglected for a while. We have been experiencing a wonderful time of growth here at the church and now I can look at what I can do to prepare us for even bigger things ahead. I'm planning on developing strategies to help to take us to the next level. I'll be able to take the time to participate in some helpful conferences. I'm working on a loooong "to do" list. I might actually get my desk cleaned. I'll do a lot more writing. : )

What I would ask you to do is this: look for ways to support the ongoing work of the church. Each of you is important to the success of this church and without you, we are all diminished. If you have suggestions for areas of improvement, outreach ideas or future sermon series, I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps you'd like me to deal with a specific issue in my blog. Let me know. You can e-mail me privately, or use this forum or Facebook me. I will do my best to be in touch at least once a week.

I love what I do and am looking forward to continuing as the pastor of CCC for as long as I'm useful. If I can help you in any way please let me know. Talk to you soon!