Disruptive change

Every so often, an event takes place that disrupts the normal and brings about significant change.

Once upon a time, people used to get their dose of television news at 6 pm or 9 pm (that’s in the UK). Now we have 24-hour rolling news channels that demand a constant feed of news.

Or people would buy a daily newspaper to find out what is going on. Now newspapers are struggling to make ends meet and need to meet a 24-hour news criteria to keep their online content current.

Of course, many of these changes have been made possible by the invention of the internet. The way we live is now heavily influenced by technology that makes global communication instant and allows anyone to have a voice. And, Apple’s iPhone, changed the game again, by putting all the technology required for this communication, in a device that can fit in the pocket of your trousers.

All of these changes disrupted the normal.

Why mention this today, other than recognising that the announcement of another election in the UK could provide an opportunity for more disruption?

Well, I’ve been thinking about how leadership necessitates the ability to negotiate disruptions to bring change. An article in The Straits Times, put it like this, ‘We want to catch the wave before it cascades over us, so that we can ride the wave rather than be crushed beneath it.’

Riding the wave can lead to new possibilities and allow changes for good, but you have to ride the wave, you can’t just cling on and hope to reach the shore.

I just wonder, how many things I think of as disruptions (issues, problems, etc) could actually be opportunities to bring positive change?

How pictures can shape our worldview

On Sunday, I was asked to give a brief illustration of one aspect of my team’s work, how the pictures we use shape our view of the world. I thought maybe I could share it with you.

In the following images, which characters would see as ‘good’ and which would we see as ‘bad’.

We have been conditioned to see those characters portrayed in white, or in the light, as good. While those in black, or kept in the dark, as bad.

This has carried across to film too. Luke Skywalker usually appears dressed in light coloured clothing, Darth Vader, in black.

The use of this kind of colour translated across into Christian literature too. Jesus is always portrayed in white, the devil in black. Even today, you’re more likely to find Jesus, wearing white robes and looking like he’s come from western Europe or North America, rather than dressed like a carpenter’s son from Galilee.

So when western Christians turned up in parts of the world where most people have a darker complexion, what did the images imply. That those with light skin were ‘good’ and those with dark skin were ‘bad’?

Even today we hear reports from people for whom these kinds of images have left scars.

But, I think this also questions the kinds of images we respond to today.

Most of our mental image of Africa are still formed by shocking pictures of famine and poverty. For me, I still can’t shake the images that led to Band Aid back in 1984, they still influence my perception of the world. And while famine still hits the continent, Africa’s a big place with a lot of other things going on. Our stereotypes that fit with those images from the 1980s are a stark contrast from the Addis Ababa light rail system or the urban sprawl of Lagos in Nigeria, Africa’s largest city.

Mission agencies have to take some of the blame for that. We haven’t always done a good job of representing the world we serve in. Mission today is as likely to require us to serve in urban or suburban areas around major cities, as to relocate to a rural community. While, today’s acts of service are much less likely to be as a sole evangelist in a cross-cultural setting and more as part of a strategic team, working alongside indigenous Christians and in partnership with the local church.

Of course, the images that represent these 21st Century mission roles are not the kinds of pictures that spur us to action. We are more ready to go and serve those that look different to us than to go to those that work in office blocks and have a daily commute. But, maybe this is where the church can do more to encourage us to see the world as it truly is, rather than as one presented to us in the pictures.

The book, The Future of the Global Church, puts it like this.

‘In 1800, only 3% of humankind lived in cities. It is estimated that in 2100 the figure will be nearly 90%. It was probably in 2007/08 that the world’s population first became predominantly urban’

Reflections on global leadership in community: Millennials

It was on my flight out to the global leadership gathering in Germany, that I began to reflect on the challenge of involving future generations with mission. The Business Life magazine from BA, contained the following quote,

‘One of the best ways to be equipped for the future is to give more responsibility to younger employees, says Brent Hoberman, who recently took part in the Evening Standard’s Young Progress makers event aimed at addressing some of the challenges the new generation is facing. Hoberman believes the speed of technological change is the greatest of these: “The young need the right skills to cope with the future. In the new economy, creativity will be crucial.” And young Londoners have an advantage, he says: simply by living in a city that is so multicultural, they will be likely to be receptive to different ideas.’

Of course, this issue of the magazine was all about London, so clearly they were talking up the city. But, there is something about growing up in a multicultural, multi-racial, technologically advanced metropolis that has an impact on the way a generation will approach life.

For mission organisations, we face a challenge of how to work with this new generation – even how to hand leadership over to them. We aren’t, yet, doing it very well.

I’m not, technically, a millennial, but I do identify with most experiences of the early millennials. This article, Why millennials are leaving the church, by Rachel Held Evans, could have been written about me.

Preaching on John 9: The testimony of a man born blind

I spoke on John 9 last night at Haddenham Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful passage, that comes at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles where the Jews would remember their time in the wilderness, living in tents while waiting for their more permanent home.

The things that I found most striking about this passage were:

Jesus isn’t the main character

After a pretty intense couple of chapters, set during the second half of the Feast, where Jesus talks about who he is, we arrive at the healing of a man who had been born blind. Jesus makes mud and puts it on his eyes and then sends him off to wash in the Pool of Siloam. That’s about it from Jesus until the end of the chapter when he comes to find the man he’d healed so that he can know who Jesus really is.

The rest of the chapter is the man’s testimony, first to his neighbours and then to the Pharisees about what had happened to him.

Fake news isn’t new

Anyone who thinks that fake news is a social media phenomenon needs to think again. This passage is littered with groups trying to put their own spin on the man’s story to suit their worldview.

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents.

They already had the testimony of the people to say that this was the man who was once blind, and the statement of the man himself.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

The Pharisees had made their mind up as to who Jesus was, despite evidence to the contrary.

29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

This is a complete lie. In the previous chapters, the Pharisees had already commented on the fact that Jesus had come from Galilee.

In clinging to their own world view, the Pharisees can’t see the truth of the evidence put before them.

Seeing clearly

It’s interesting that the first time the blind man gets to see Jesus is at the end of the passage. He would have set off to the pool in the opening verses without having seen Jesus and by the time he came back Jesus was gone.

So the main bulk of his testimony was based on the understanding that being healed in this way could only be done by someone good with power over creation.

Then in the last few verses, he meets Jesus, and understanding fully worships him.

All that evidence

There’s a sting in this story for the Pharisees.

41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

All the evidence the Pharisees have. Not just in what they have seen over the last few days, but all the knowledge they have in knowing the Scriptures, means that they should really be able to interpret what’s going on and who Jesus is – but all that knowledge seems to mean nothing.

There’s a caution for us in there too. Do we misinterpret evidence because of our own ideas and biases? Do we avoid asking questions because we are afraid of the answers we may get (or just ignore the answers anyway)?

The trinity in music

I was so pleased that a colleague shared an interview with Dr Jeremy Begbie, Duke Divinity School, talking about how music can help explain the trinity. This video briefly captures the point.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: Intentionality

Personal Reflection

To give some background, like so many people in similar roles, I have never intentionally sought a leadership position. My dream was never to develop a team, take on challenges, or create a different world (I really wanted to be a radio DJ, that’s maybe another story), but over the years I’ve been allowed more experience and more opportunity to do just that. I’ve also discovered that I like this kind of thing and maybe I fit this much better than I would any radio studio.

In some ways, however, I feel like I’ve missed a step. In never intentionally seeking leadership roles I’ve not, until more recently, intentionally developed myself in this area.

Last week’s consultation helped me to reflect on my personal situation and reminded me that it would be helpful to get involved leadership conversations and intentionally take time to reflect and develop personally in the area of leadership. I should probably say that it’s not that I see myself as a bad or ill-equipped leader, but I know with more intentionality I can grow in this area.

Other intentional applications

The kinds of consultations we have in the Alliance don’t always result in fixed conclusions. We discuss ideas, develop some theories, raise new questions, but we don’t go away with a 5-point plan of how to apply what we’ve covered. I understand why some find that frustrating, but for me, it raises the question of what I can do within my sphere of influence to develop some of the themes with my team.

In my earlier post, I listed four areas that I was impacted by last week. Intentionality; millennials; globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism; and change and opportunity – in being intentional, it’s now down to my community to interpret these areas into our working practices. That’s me deciding to be intentional in what I do.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: personal thoughts

The room that was buzzing with discussion from all corners of the world is now empty. Last week was both excellent, and hard work. Excellent to be involved in that network, and to intentionally listen to different groups and points-of-view, knowing that at the core, our desire was to see God glorified and his mission advanced in each of our contexts. Hard work, in that it’s sometimes difficult to listen to and accept points-of-view that challenge your preconceived ideas.

Having said all that, the hard work really starts now. Sitting in a room, where you’ve gathered for the purpose of discussing global missional leadership in community, it’s easy to see everything as possible. Leaving that environment and going back to the daily routine (whatever that may be) and not losing all the good thoughts from the week is where the real challenge begins.

How do I take the discussions of last week, develop some personal outcomes and bring them to bear in the areas where I have some influence?

Some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to leadership:

Intentionality: It’s easy for me to think I’m in leadership by accident and just rely on personal attributes and experience to see me through. But, I as I find myself entering a new season of life and a new role with new responsibilities, it’s important that I rethink the context of my work and what I need to lead well in this new context. I need to be intentional in equipping myself to lead.

I can also make a choice to lead when the situation arises, or be intentional about my leadership. It’s very easy to wait for the ‘right time’, whatever that may look like, but I’m starting to see that I can have some influence over enabling the time to be right.

Millennials: Almost all involved in this consultation acknowledged that there is a challenge in enabling millennials (Gen Y) join mission within our organisations. It’s not that we aren’t open to the next generation, it’s just that our systems and structures are so often formed around the boomer generation that those born in the 80s or later don’t feel that they fully fit with us.

Globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism: Influence and leadership now comes from all over the place. There are Christian centres of influence outside of Europe and North America that should and can lead in a global environment. How do I take on a posture of learning and openness with my brothers and sisters from other countries and still contextualise for my own context?

Change and opportunity: We are all dealing with change. In the car travelling to the airport today, my colleagues were talking about how the pace of change in the last 25 years is equivalent to the pace of change over the previous 200 years. There’s a leadership challenge in there. How do we lead in an environment of continual change? As digital technology continues to advance, travel becomes easier, but maybe political and ideological challenges have a significant impact on our world, how do we lead within this?

There’s more to think through with all of this, and other things I’ve not yet mentioned. I’ll try to develop my thoughts in the days to come, but I’m now at the airport getting ready to fly home. It’s time to go and find my gate and get back to my family.

Global leadership in community final day

It’s too early to properly reflect on this week’s conversations. We have covered a lot on the subject of leadership in community, and really have only just scratched the surface. There are more discussions to have and further to go, but we’ve started.

Below are just a couple of quotes and the questions from today. I’ll follow up with some proper reflections at some point over the weekend.

Integration of discussion

Our prayer time together was a living expression of what it means to be leaders in community. We belong to one another because we are the body of Christ.

We have discussed multiple, complex concepts – leadership, the mission of God, community. These aren’t easy topics.

Questions

Who are the communities that I interact with as a leader?
What insights did I gain from our conversations this week that either confirms or challenges my understanding of myself as a leader, or myself as a leader-in-community?
Considering the previous question, what are the most important two or three things I would need to, or wish to change in my approach to leadership?
What will I need to do to make this change?
How do we expand this conversation within and beyond the Alliance – deeper and broader?

Global realities to leading in community, some thoughts

The photo for this piece comes from our trip to Marburg on Wednesday. It’s a town about an hour from where we are, where Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli discussed the symbolism of the elements in the Lord’s Supper. The following is from Wikipedia:

The Marburg Colloquy was a meeting at Marburg Castle, Marburg, Hesse, Germany which attempted to solve a disputation between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli over the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. It took place between 1 October and 4 October 1529. The leading Protestant reformers of the time attended at the behest of Philipp I of Hessen. Philipp’s primary motivation for this conference was political; he wished to unite the Protestant states in political alliance, and to this end, religious harmony was an important consideration.

I assume the painting in the photograph is Luther and Zwingli in the midst of their discussion.

Back to the leading in community discussion…

Wednesday 15th March

How do any of the global realities discussed, shape your understanding about yourself as a leader with the Alliance?

  • Power and authority
  • Globalisation vs nationalism
  • Polycentrism
  • Funding challenges
  • Changing technology and information overload
  • Corruption
  • Secularism
  • Millennial rising
  • Rising fundamentalism
  • Keeping up with constant change

What opportunities and challenges do you face that these global realities hold for collective leadership within the Alliance?

How could we as leaders better understand and work with these realities in order to provide more effective leadership within our local and global contexts?

Thursday 16th March

Much of our focus is on the leader – the charismatic, servant, inspirational leader. Yet, we know, no one leader is able to tackle the challenges of our world today. So we want to move away from that, and learn what it means to be a leader in community.

The place of Friendship in the Mission of God (Kirk J Franklin and Cornelius J.P. Niemandt)

‘A missiology of friendship as well as community in the missio Dei creates a greater openness to others by walking and serving humbly as friends with Christ and each other. The theme of friendship in God’s mission draws inspiration from Jesus’ willingness to give his life for his friends. Knowing the crucified Christ intimately through participating in community and friendship provides an essential foundation for mission. Valuing friendship as a core value demonstrates Christ’s love that overcomes the issues of inequality and racism. A missiological understanding of friendship and community deepens the value of partnering in mission. This helps create a third space – friendship in mission – which helps overcome the gap between the West’s new colonialism and its power and resources, and the global South and East, who live without the power and influence of financial resources.’

Exploration of what this concept means: Leading in community.

The Alliance, Principles of community, came out of a discussion in Ghana in 2012 and were recently affirmed in a consultation on community in December 2016.

  • We are created for community and called to community (creation and calling).
  • We are God’s people, called to consistently and lovingly relate and behave according to the instruction of his word and the example of Christ (identity-who we are together).
  • Living and serving in community glorifies God and provides a tangible example of the Gospel in action. We reflect the image of God through intentionally modelling authentic community (how we live together).
  • A community that glorifies God attracts people to God and his mission (what we do together).

Our questions

Again, lots of our thoughts came out of table group discussions, and it doesn’t really seem to work to note down the outcomes here without more context. I’ll give you the questions and maybe draw some conclusions at some point over the weekend. Tomorrow morning is our final session, so we are about to wrap this up… at least, do as much wrapping up as is possible in a conversation of this nature.

In what ways do these principles reflect your personal leadership practice within your immediate work community?

In what ways do these principles affect the community mentioned above?

Given the Alliance’s Principles on Community and our discussions up to this point, why would we consider the concept of leading-in-community to be important?

What does it mean to lead in community: locally and globally?

Given our learning of what it means to lead in community, what would be some unique characteristics of this kind of leadership?

How would this growing understanding of leading in community change practice within the Alliance, as well as within your local context?

Towards global missional leadership

It was a pleasure, yesterday, to receive a copy of Kirk Franklin’s book – Towards global missional leadership.

Published by Regnum in Oxford, based largely on Franklin’s PhD thesis A paradigm for global missional leadership: the journey of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the book is designed to be a more accessible means to thoughts about leadership in the global context.

Yet, while I’ve read the whole of the PhD thesis, I’ve not yet read the book – and I can’t really see there being enough spare time for me to dig into it this week. So, I’ll steal my description of what to expect and why to get the book, from the Forward, written by Dr Paul Bendor-Samuel, Executive Director at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

This book does not describe an elegant new theory of leadership dreamed up and designed in an academic laboratory. It describes the fruit of countless conversations, consultations and commitments to listening and learning in many different contexts. It’s authentic.

Bendor-Samuel continues to note that this book ‘is relevant’, by saying,

There is an urgent need for the development of global missional leaders who are able to make sense of our times, and are capable of understanding and leading locally.

And then closes by commenting on why Regnum International is publishing the book,

While we delight to serve the academic community, our mission is to enable the global church to better engage in God’s mission in its very diverse contexts. To do this we seek to bring practitioners and academics together. This book launches a new Regnum Practitioner series. Our desire is that this series will bridge the gap that sometimes exists between, on the one hand, Christian leaders and mission practitioners and, on the other, Christian researchers. Where better to start than with a fresh look at what is required of leadership in mission and the church?

So, those are the highlights of why to read the book, now I just have to find out if this really present a ‘fresh look at what is required of leadership in mission and the church’, and it may take a few days to get into it. I’ll no doubt share my reflections as I go.

The book is available through Amazon as a digital download, or to pre-order from Regnum through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies website.