Tag Archives: learning

you have a theology problem.

Puzzle from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Andreanna Moya Photography, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

“You have a theology problem.”

A trusted woman in my life told me that the other day.  (And by trusted woman I mean my counselor whose qualifications for saying such a thing to me are found in the string of abbreviations that represent her many professional degrees in these matters!) I cringed, but couldn’t exactly protest.  I was asking all these questions of her, looking for wisdom and counsel and frankly, some answers!  What I got instead was, “You have a theology problem.  You need to go work that out!”  Not what I was looking for.  In fact, I’m quite certain I left the conversation with more problems than what came in the door with me!

It seems that what I believe to be true for you, friend, is not what I actually believe to be true for me.  I carry around two different theologies.  One for you and another for me. Can you relate?

What I believe for the world and for you is like this:

I believe that God is good and beautiful.

I believe that you are loved and worthy of love simply because you exist.

I believe that God is first and foremost a Father;  a perfect, loving Dad who desperately wants good things for you.

I believe that the kindness of the Lord is the only thing that leads to repentance.

I believe that you are free.

I believe that for you.

I do not believe that for me.

I “know”rationally that these truths apply to me.  As it turns out, the problem is that I, along with the rest of the human population, am made up of more than just reason and logic.  (I know, I know- it was surprising for me to learn, too!) So things start to really break down for me when I’m challenged to push beyond what I know and consider what it is that I truly believe.  It’s a full on meltdown for me then when what I think in my head contradicts what I believe in my heart (or spirit or gut- let’s be honest, those are pretty tough to distinguish between).  Apparently I am not a fan of said meltdowns (can you blame me?!) so I’ve just learned to avoid them largely by ignoring my heart.  Things are tidier and more stable for everyone that way. At least that’s what I tell myself.

People are sophisticated and strong creatures– we can hold a massive amount of tension for a while.  We can subdivide ourselves.  (Some of us can do that more efficiently than others.)  We can decide what parts of us have a higher moral value, what parts of us are more socially acceptable, what pieces are “stronger” or more important or appealing about us.  For me, those rational and reasonable parts are what I offer to the world, the parts I invest in and care for and like the best about myself.  All the other pieces in there I’ve labeled as weak, intemperate, fickle, and untrustworthy.

What I have been learning the slow, long, hard way is that God made us to be whole.  He made all the parts and all the parts are needed to make me whole.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in me.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in you.

The painstaking process of reconciling my “theology problem” involves me being willing to hold onto all the puzzle pieces; not throwing out or dismissing half of them just because I can’t figure out where they fit right now.

It looks like carving out space in an already impossibly full day to dig deep; to find a way to name the hard things; to gently call out the fragile things hidden away.

It means confessing my unbelief to the Lord over and over and over again. It requires me writing with ink on paper what’s in my heart.  Sometimes it helps to think of someone I love and what I would say to them if the unbeliefs I hold were coming out of their mouth and not mine.  What would I want them to know?  How would I pray?  How could I bless them and deposit tender truths in their heart?

Those are the things I have to do in solitude.  But then I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing:

“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. Their own hearts are uncertain; those of their brothers and sisters are sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

This means I cannot fix my little “theology problem” alone.  It becomes a group project, a team sport.  The Lord mercifully recruited bringers of the message of salvation for me.  He gives me a trustworthy counselor, who I affectionately refer to as my very own black hole.  Let me tell you that there is something holy about saying whatever you need to say to someone who is trained to suspend judgement and who is bound by law to keep your confidence.  She’s an amazing bringer.  Then there are the handful of friends and family who still manage to take my calls and want to spend time with me, even though it must feel like watching a dog chase its tail for hours on end to listen to me process all of this.

Lastly, I know deep down that banishing my unbelief will mean taking some hard and scary steps in my “everyday, ordinary life—my sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” as Eugene Peterson puts it.  Honestly, I don’t know what all those will be yet.  I imagine many of them will be small and awkward- the kinds of things you think surely wouldn’t be so insignificant if they were really from God, but so hard to talk yourself into doing that they must be from God.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?!

There will be big steps, too, I’m sure- “Peter steps” is what I’ll call those.  Because while I know it was by faith that Peter believed and earnestly wanted Jesus to call him out of the boat, the miracle we all talk about is the guy actually walking on the water, not simply him wanting to do so from inside the boat.

I guess the best way to say it is that I don’t know how much you can believe, or how much unbelief you can exorcise, from inside the boat.  That’s the terrifying truth.  It’s terrifying though in the way that really trusting God is always terrifying…and life-changing.

Knowing just isn’t enough for me anymore.  It isn’t all that I need, it isn’t all that I am inside.  I need to believe, in every sense of the word, that Jesus is for and with me in all the ways that I deeply believe that he is for and with you.  I need to be free from the weight of lugging around two different theologies everywhere I go.  I just need one really good one in which Jesus is more than enough for every part of each and every one of us.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve Got a Question.

There is an ongoing joke with the people nearest me about my “spiritual gift” of asking questions.  I love asking questions and the learning that comes along with it.

I am curious.  About everything.  All of the time.

I have way more questions than you have answers for or time to entertain.

If you are around me long enough you’ll be subject to my random questions and come to either find it endearing or annoying, or perhaps both!

If you were to drop into a Renovatus staff meeting on a Tuesday morning, you’d likely witness our team with index cards in front of them answering 5 questions I just threw out to them related to the topic I’m speaking from.

There are many things about leading a team and running a church that do not come naturally to me.  I’m not very strategic.  I’m not process driven. I’m not task-minded.  I like helping.  I like keeping the peace.  Nevertheless, here I am responsible for a lot of people and resources on a daily basis.  Thankfully, the one thing that is instinctive for me is asking questions.

This got me thinking about how asking questions is a really valuable practice.

And because I like lists almost as much as I like questions, I decided to write down a few reasons why I think asking questions is incredibly important and healthy:

1.  Shows honor & concern– When someone asks you a question about yourself or for your perspective, it’s validating.  It communicates respect, interest, and care.  We live in a wildly individualistic, egocentric world.  It is counter cultural and perhaps even counter intuitive to take the time to look someone in the eyes and ask them a meaningful question.

2.  Fosters humility– We often feel the need to know everything (which is silly and another rant for another time) and asking questions reminds us that we can’t and don’t have all the answers.  It acknowledges our need for people and things outside of ourselves, which incidentally, is really helpful at keeping our pride in check.

3.  Creates space for vulnerability, trust and intimacy to formPeople are open to people who are open to them.  It’s amazing the relationships and opportunities that are birthed by curiosity or a well-timed question.  We all appreciate the opportunity to explain ourselves and take ownership of our responses.  Asking questions (as opposed to speaking in the declarative all of the time) often lowers defenses and increases our receptivity to what another person is trying to communicate.

4.  Challenges mindsets and ruts– My dear friend Amanda once said “it’s a spiritual discipline to break your routine.”  I think about that a lot in a number of different contexts.  In this particular one I’d simply say that asking questions breaks us out of our routines, out of our box.  This is a very, very good thing.  We can all think of a time when we were challenged, for better or for worse, by having to answer the question “why?” for doing something the way we do.

5.  Produces good leaders– Your effectiveness as a leader (and maybe more broadly, as a human being?) is correlative to your desire and discipline to learn.  Whether this is in personal relationships or developing new skills at work or picking up a new hobby at home, asking questions is a great way to learn and an easy place to start.  Additionally, asking questions is a great way to help develop leaders around you!

6.  Keeps us open to wonder & gratitude– This is more abstract, but just as important.  Asking questions keeps our eyes open to new ideas, to see beauty in the world, to dream new dreams, to recognize the gifts around us and to be grateful for it all.

Are you seeing all the potential & possibilities wrapped up in questions?!

I know none of this is novel or earth shattering, but hopefully it’s a good reminder of how we can communicate and lead and love one another really well.

Start with a question and see where it takes you.

The Reluctant Pioneer

When I’m old and wise and have life stories to tell, I think I’ll call my memoir The Reluctant Pioneer.

Until then, I’ll just use it for a blog post.

I think I was born to pioneer.

(To be clear, not in the traditional “settler” or “frontier woman” way- I don’t know how to sew or ring a chicken or mill wheat or milk a cow or anything.  But in the ever-exploring, “building something new” kind of way.  Hopefully you see the distinction.)

And I say ‘reluctant’ because pioneering is not something that I seek out.  It’s not even something I particularly feel gifted in.  I am not the fearless, risk-taking type. By nature, I love order and predictability.  I love knowing what to expect and I like rules!  I also really hate to fail.

My idea of a pioneer is a daring dreamer who thrives on chance and defying odds.  No part of that sentence describes me.

Even so, despite my very precise picture of a pioneer, it seems I am eternally curious and like a good challenge more than I care to admit. Thus, I always seem to find myself somewhere new, working on something new– creating, establishing, shaping.

I’m not a true pioneer, but I apparently get pretty inspired by them and can’t seem to resist joining the team!  How else could I explain how I ended up as the Executive Pastor at Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC?!

My husband Nathan and I moved from Columbus, GA to Charlotte, NC in 2006.  We had some dear friends who we deeply believed in that felt called to plant a church. Years prior we promised that when that time came, we would pack our bags and follow them wherever they started this new work.  We began our plans to move with no idea where we’d live once we got here or what jobs we’d find to support ourselves, but we were up for the adventure.

Renovatus was officially commissioned that year and there was a lot to do.  Pastor Jonathan asked me to be his administrative assistant and run the church office on a part-time basis.  I was his first hire.

So, here we were a new church with 2 employees; the Lead Pastor who has never been a lead pastor before and an admin assistant who had never assisted before.  Oh, and a host of volunteer staff who also had no prior direct experience in the areas they were serving.  It was QUITE a learning curve.  It was a long season of pioneering on every front.  We were making it up as we went as best as we could.  As my friend Mat likes to say, we were building the boat while out at sea.  And that’s not the easiest way to build a boat, my friend!

Since then, every season of growth thereafter for the church has brought about new endeavors to pioneer.

Some we receive with joy and exuberance.  Others with more reluctance and discomfort than you can know.

In some we soar.  In others we flail about just trying to get off the ground.  In all of them we learn.  (As an aside: Sometimes I think learning is enough.  But in more than one of those occasions I’d maintain that learning is overrated!)

Planting a church, growing a church, being the church is non-stop pioneering.  Almost 6 years in, I’m still learning to embrace it.  I’m still learning to lean into the adventure and walk by faith.

Here are a few beautiful things I’ve reluctantly learned about pioneering along the way:

1.  Pioneering is quite the crucible!  New challenges are refining and developing.  Character is revealed.  Leaders and ideas emerge from unlikely places.

2.  Pioneering keeps you open.  Keeps you expectant.  Keeps you curious. Every idea is worth exploring and every option is entertained. Everything has potential and possibility when you are a pioneer.  In this way, pioneering can often foster humility & imagination.  It can also help keep cynicism & close-mindedness at bay.

3.  Pioneering keeps you dependent.  I once heard Dallas Willard speaking on the subject of dependence upon the Lord.  Someone attempted to challenge him and said, “We can’t always live at the end of our rope, though, right?”  His reply was simply, “I don’t know where else you’d live.”

Pioneering is the perfect means by which you reluctantly take up permanent residence at the end of your rope and hang on for dear Life.

Good Leaders Are…

I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.

Good leaders are good learners.

I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own.  Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all.  While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.

What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within.  Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing.  It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.

I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.”  What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation?  I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness.  The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success.  Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.

Good leaders are good followers.

The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers.  And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them.  I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be.  Followership could never be overrated.  In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership.  Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.

Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life.   If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another.  I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?  If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind.  But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”

Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us.  Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly.  If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?

Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.

Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate.  I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness.  And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well.  Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye.  It’s a most unattractive quality.  Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!

Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making.  And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them.  It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well.  It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.

Good leaders are good at delegating.

I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE!  She was pretty genius at it, too.  Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others.  Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.

Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders.  If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well.  This can be an intimidating practice at first.  Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.

“What if he does it better than I do?”

“What if they like her better?”

“What if I work myself out of a job?”

Good leaders are always looking ahead.  If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.

Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges.  But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement.  You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself.  If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure.  You have every reason to be really proud.  And you now have other things you need to go do!

Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration.  People want to be noticed.  People want to be challenged.  People want to be a part.  Give them a part!  (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)

It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small.  It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.