Printed word + Spoken word = Better Equipping

My friend Jill posted a blog today about the plethora of books available to us. Jill’s comments were prompted by time spent visiting bookstores, though I couldn’t help but think that we don’t even have to leave our comfy chairs to avail ourselves of books. Anyone who owns a computer and has internet access can dive into the ocean of words through online books and downloadable resources. The printed word–books, magazines,  newspapers (though these are smaller now than in years past), e-zines, e-books, blogs–oceans and oceans of printed words…

Jill writes…  I once spent time with a group of young mothers, and instead of asking the older mothers for advice, they wanted the titles of books that could teach them to parent, because we all know books are written by experts who know better than we do.  Or at least by lucky people who know someone in the publishing field.  What happened to face to face living, to community, to sharing with live humans in the flesh and blood world?  Why do we think books are so magical? (emphasis mine) *

I am reading book after required book as I prepare for ordination as a deacon in the Anglican Church. Most of these books were written by theologians and scholars, people who know a lot more than me. Some of this reading is dry–if not boring–but most of it is helping me better understand Scripture, the church, Anglicanism, and Christ-like leadership (that is, being a serving leader). But do you know what is most edifying? The discussion that ensues following each book. You see, I am doing this in community.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself answering someone’s questions about equipping practices by referring them to a book. A good book–one that I have found true and useful–but words in print, nonetheless. Sometimes it’s easier and faster (for me!) than trying to explain a theory or a process. Yet I know that easier is not always better, let alone best. My justification is that they will be learning from someone wiser than me. There may be some truth in that… and then again, maybe not.

I’ve been an equipping practitioner/leader for over 15 years. Some of my experiences differ from the writers’ of the books I’ve read. Of similar experiences, sometimes I’ve drawn different conclusions than they did. My ways are not necessarily their ways, but my experiences can have equal value for the one who comes to me seeking answers to their equipping questions. It’s certainly not wrong to suggest printed resources to those who come for help. However, as an equipping leader, I am more faithful to equipping values when I offer an opportunity to process in community.

What about you? Do you have an equipping community with whom you process? If not, why not? You might be surprised at the wisdom you will find from other practitioners… and at the wisdom you have to share!

Why not join the equipping conversation at LifeServe National Conference 2011? I would love to see you there!

*Read Jill’s blog in it’s entirety at http://willowtreeharbor.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/of-making-many-books/

Two wrong questions; One right answer

Where do you look for your leaders? Gotta have ’em, right? And too often we need them sooner rather than later! So we begin the search, which might look like this…

We need a strong leader for our finance committee. Who in the church is experienced in accounting or finance? Wrong question!

When I served on the staff of a large mainline denominational church, that’s the question that was most frequently asked during the nominations process. Who has marketplace experience in something directly related to the leadership role we need to fill? Who are the insurance brokers, builders, engineers who have exhibited marketplace success that we can nominate for trustees? Who among our congregation are teachers that we can nominate to lead discipleship? Who works in human resources that we can nominate to serve on this nominations committee? Wrong questions.

Or perhaps the search process might begin like this…

We need a leader for our finance committee. Who do we know that has the time to serve? Wrong question!

Smaller churches may not even be thinking about who is successful in the marketplace. They may simply be asking, “Who isn’t already serving in other areas? Who has the time to lead this committee? Who can we ask that we won’t have to strong-arm into saying “yes?” Wrong questions.

If you are honest, you know you’ve asked these same questions. When we are desperate for leadership, we can easily succumb to the temptation to ask the default questions, Who’s got experience? or Who’s got time?

Several years ago I read an article that asked, “What’s the most important quality to look for in a leader?” Now there’s a good question! The answer: Wisdom.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about wisdom. According to Proverbs, wisdom is supreme (4:7), worth far more than rubies (8:11), accompanies humility (11:2), is found in those who take advice (13:10), and brings joy (29:3). Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge above all else, and the Lord was so pleased that He granted the request–along with the wealth, riches, and honor that Solomon did not ask for! (2 Chronicles 1:8-12) What’s more, James tells us that God still honors that request (James 1:5). The first deacons were chosen because they were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), and Paul includes wisdom in the list of spiritual gifts necessary for health and maturity in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:8). There are plenty more references to wisdom–pull out your concordance and see for yourself. A word study on wisdom might be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Marketplace experience is no match for godly wisdom. And having time to spare may be an indication of idleness (scripture has something to say about that, too!). Wisdom, on the other hand, is a “generalist.” A person who is wise will employ their wisdom in a leadership role on any team or committee. A wise person also knows how to manage their time, and values balance between work and rest. A person who is truly wise derives their wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17) and will lead accordingly. That sounds to me like the right person to fill the leadership role. What do you think?

I have some more thoughts on leadership to share in the coming days. I hope you will join in the conversation!

The Shopkeeper and the Guide

Last week I received a phone call from a ministry leader halfway across the country. He came across my contact information on a website and called me for help. He had read a book about equipping and his question was simple, “Will this really work?” This man was looking for more than words on a page.

In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson has much to say about the importance of language, and what we are missing as our culture steadily increases its dependence upon the written word over the spoken word in education (and communication in general, I might add!).

Peterson employs the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on  Gaza Road (Acts 8:26-39) to illustrate the difference between one who explains Scripture and one who guides another into an experiential understanding of the Word. Philip asks the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Peterson writes:

The African invites Philip into the chariot to accompany him as his guide. This is going to take some time. Philip has to make a choice: will he stand alongside the chariot, providing information and answering questions about Scripture, exegetical work that comes easily for him, or will he involve himself in a spiritual quest with this stranger? Will I? It is the difference between the shopkeeper who sells maps of the wilderness and the person who goes with you into it, risking the dangers, helping to cook the meals, and sharing the weather. Philip decides [to guide]. He climbs into the chariot and shares the journey.¹

Philip doesn’t leave the Ethiopian to simply read the Scripture, but rather guides him into an experience of Christ through conversation–questions asked and answered–regarding the text, culminating in the baptism of this African. How much more effective is this man’s witness now than before Philip climbed into the chariot? Borrowing from Peterson, the Ethiopian has “read much Scripture,” and now he has “experienced much Christ,” creating congruity between the word and the Word.

I’ve been reflecting on that phone conversation in light of Peterson’s comments about the Gaza Road experience. If I am honest, I have to admit that I sometimes find it more comfortable to explain from the sidelines. But I have to ask, Does the pastor who called me understand what he is reading? In one sense, yes he does. But how much more effective would it be if he had a guide who could lead him into an experience of developing an equipping culture, rather than just reading words on a page?

Put another way: As an equipping leader, am I content with being the “shopkeeper who sells the map,” explaining the concepts of equipping from a theological perspective, hoping those listening will somehow figure out how to create congruity between what they learn and the reality of their ministry? Or would I rather be the guide who comes alongside other practitioners, engaging in conversation–questions asked and answered relative to their specific context–leading them into an experience of an equipping culture, and culminating in a leader whose ministry can tell the story much more effectively than words on a workbook page? For me, the answer is simple. Like Philip, I choose to be the guide.

So… who do you want to be? The shopkeeper or the guide?

1. Peterson, Eugene H., Working the Angles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p. 128