What territorialism and tribalism look like can depend on context

I was talking with a Christian university student originally from the US about territorialism. 

At his university there are many many Christian groups and churches that respect each other and welcome each other's invovlement on campus. To do otherwise would be awfully territorial and tribal. Rather, because Christ is preached, they should rejoice.

But he was commenting on how here in Australia he often hears people be protective about particular mission fields in a territorial or tribal, as if they own this or that mission field. This seems so bad, he thought. Surely the more people preaching the gospel the better?

I agreed with him that a desperate, small-minded territorialism can be a problem in Australia. We guard our universities or our parishes from outside interference. "If anyone is going to fail to reach this area," we say. "It'll be us and us alone!".

And yet I tried to help him see that that's not the full story. In times of leaner harvest, when getting gospel ministry going is slower and harder, we can also rightly see that new minsitries could disrupt the momentum we've just gathered, divide the small teams we'e managed to recruit. Sometimes the desire to build critical mass among one ministry might be the best desire in a context of harder soil.

I suggested that in such situations, the tribal, territorial thing might be the new, 'competing' group remaining insistent on its own brand. Rather than pushing to plant the flag of its own tribe in the new 'territory', it might be better to instead join forces with the existing one.

So those genuinely keen to reach a uni campus may abandon the AFES brand and link arms with Student Life, if they are already doing a good work. The person keen to reach a particular town might abandon the decision to plant a church and first join forces with an existing Baptist Church that is just getting things moving.

There's no simple answers to such questions, is there?

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A couple of tentative thoughts about gender identity and Christianity

A few people have raised issues of gender dysphoria with me in the last few months on a theoretical level: 'What do you think about it?' 'Will we be someohw less-gendered in heaven?' 'Could you please blog about aliens? Or gender dysphoria?'

I THINK I have only known one person with gender dysphoria. We met outside a cafe one day and proceeded to catch up semi-regularly for a few months.

I am not super well-read in this area, and am keen to learn from others out there on their thoughts and experiences. But here are a couple of things I can think of upon reflection on Scripture and the little I have read/heard.

A couple of Bible thoughts:

  1. Humanity is fundamentally gendered in the Bible. We are men and women. Cross-dressing is condemned in the book of Deuteronomy and 1Corinthians. The normal and good nature of human createdness by God's intention, then, is that there is a fixity in our gender that aligns with our biological sex.
  2. Gender is not the only thing that defines us - our nature as God's image bearers and our oneness in Christ are greater realities.
  3. Gender, marriage and procreation all go together. In a sense even a single person is a potentially-married person. Even an infertile couple is a 'could have otherwise been fertile' couple. The teaching of Christ that there will be no marriage in the new creation, presumably means that gender is relatively less significant to human experience and relationships in the new creation.
  4. The Bible acknowledges the category of eunuch (whether for the kingdom, by birth or by the hands of people) - and so there is a category for a human experience that is less-than-fully-gendered. And so the category of androgyny is easier to find in the Bible than transsexualism/genderism.
  5. There is no evidence I can think of in the Scripture that justifies us as thinking that gender should be primarily defined by how we feel, or the state of our hormones or brain chemistry. Of course that is all very anachronistic for me to say, anyway.

A couple of more practical reflections:

  1. The experience of gender dysphoria, not to mention other conditions of the sex organs, is extremely rare. In that sense this is an intense issue for a few, not a major issue for many.
  2. I want to gently suggest that this experience is, from the point of view of God's creative intent, abnormal. As a result the experience of dissonance, confusion and hurt is a sad reality of people who do experience it. There needs to be love, acceptance, comfort and kindness shown to people living with these experiences.
  3. Not all experiences in this life, whether experiences of gender, sexual orientation or other things entirely, can be or need to be comfortably resolved. We need to also have the categories and imagination and tools to live with dissonance and struggle throughout our lives. Seeking to resolve irresolveable things through acceptance may not actually make things better anyway.
  4. As a matter of courtesy, I would address someone according to their chosen pronoun. I would not necessarily extend to them every other preferred treatment according to their chosen gender - with regard to sleeping or bathroom arrangements... that's trickier!
  5. When it comes to giving counsel to someone wrestling with these experiences, I think a stronger case can be made for someone choosing to think and live as a modern-day equivalent of a eunuch, than to change their lived gender from their biological gender.
  6. I do question the assumption that is often made that the gender a person feels that they are should be the most essential and defining thing about how their gender is contructed. It seems that biological sex is often downplayed in favour or hormones, brain chemistry or personal experience and self-identification. I am not sure why this should be so. Is biological sex a minor thing? What good reason do we have to not make it determinative?

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Growing your church up Part 4: From no reports to verbal reports to written reports

Early on in the life of a ministry things can be sort of dreamt and worried into existence. Motivation, necessity and initiative are often in full supply, and administrative structure is minimal - so things just kind of happen.

Slowly the need to keep track of what's going on is felt, and reports get requested. But these are at first very relational. We invite someone to come to the leadership team to report in person, or we meet with the person over a cup of coffee and talk things through. 

This is lovely and personal and relational. There is much to commend it. But there reaches a point where it becomes destructively inefficient. Leaders meetings can drag on too long, because we feel that once we have invited someone to come and share, it would be rude not to devote a good 30 minutes to chat and pray with them. Or leaders get burdened with so many relational check-in cups of coffee.

In other words, this face to face, verbal report may be wonderfully 'pastoral' and loving to the person giving the report. But they can start to kill the leaders receiving the reports.

Another problem with them is that they make it much harder for leaders to ask hard questions and make hard decisions about the content of the reports. The report is a relational check in with the person, not a careful assessment of the progress of the ministry, with wise accountability. 

From verbal to written reports

At some point it becomes healthy to move from verbal reports to written reports. This is a jarring change:

  • People doing ministry suddenly have to 'do paperwork'.
  • Intuitive leaders and informal ministries have to start giving specific details.
  • Team leaders have to get used to communicating with the leaders above them in a more formal manner.

It is also a change for how leadership team meetings are run:

  • From long, chatty meetings full of discussion, to more formal meetings with a distinct purpose: to communicate, make decisions and build relationships among the team members themselves.
  • From reading out every report at length, to only discussing requests or concerns.
  • From just 'hearing from' other people doing ministry, to giving energy to how to better support them and better hold them to account.

It takes a bit of adjusting, but as long as it is done gently, lovingly and sensibly it is a change that is possible. And actually frees up both those doing ministry and those overseeing the whole ministry from time spent in meetings, to actually do real relational stuff!

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Growing your church up Part 3: Separate the MC from the Stage Manager and Program Planner

I've noticed that in small conferences and ministries, the MC is EITHER an after-thought job by someone who doesn't prepare at all OR they are the person responsible for the whole event, and part of that responsibility is MCing.

But planning the program is a very distinct thing from implementing that program. And the public work of leading that program is another thing again.

Doing events really well - even running Sunday church services, means separate out the Stage Manager and Program Planner from the MC:

This helps us focus on the MC making the up-front stuff flow. They, like the preacher or the band leader, are focused on what they will actually do publicly. Their nervous energy and focus can be given over to that. 

This helps us focus on recruiting MCs who will be best for this role. The best MCs might not be the most reliable and organised to run the whole event. They might not be the most theologically sharp to plan the detailed flow of the service. Or they might be busy people who don't want to say Yes to all that stuff.

This also helps us have a single person whose entire focus is the conception and planning of the event. This  Program Planner thinks and writes the program and then invites people to be involved, finalising the details along the way.

And then once the program is written, the Stage Manager takes that plan and implements it - writing detailed run sheets and oversees everybody. The Stage Manager also communicates with the sound, lights, powerpoint, music - as well as with the 'Front of House' people (ushers, greeters, catering etc). 

Because the Stage Manager is not MCing, they can be concentrating on this the entire event, even advising the MC as incidentals change.

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How to help someone build their capacity - ideas from Simone and two Craigs

Sandy Grant asked on Facebook for advice on how to help build people's capacity. Among many suggestions, I liked the ideas from Simone Richardson, Craig Schwarze and Craig Hamilton, which I repost here, with permission:

Simone's advice: resilience and self-talk

In my experience, personal resilience is a big thing with capacity. And understanding that the way that you (think you) feel doesn't need to impact how you act.

.... A few things that I've noticed that are killers to a person's capacity:

1. not being good at putting the past behind you so wallowing in regret over past failures or perceived failures or injustices or perceived injustices (I wrote this partly about this issue),

2. unhelpful negative and absolutising self-talk ("I slept so badly last night, I'm never going to be able to work properly today")

3. Being in the hopelessness rut where you think that nothing you do will have a positive impact on outcomes.

4. Not being okay in yourself about the things that are outside of your capacity. (There are 100+ women in my church. I speak personally into the lives of maybe 5 of them. I minister to the others indirectly through my kids talks, an occasional preaching gig, chats here and there and through the songs I choose for our church to sing. I'm not Jesus. I'm at capacity. I have to be okay with this or I'll fall apart.)

Craig Schwarze's advice: if motivation and competence are fine, then remove distractions

In my experience, if someone has competence and motivation, then it's usually external factors that are restraining capacity. 

In my field of software development, one of the major reasons people don't hit deadlines is due to interruptions. Sadly, these very often come from their managers! 

Are you giving your staff chunky tasks to do, then treating them like PAs by peppering them with minutiae throughout the day? A lot of my work as a leader is in creating "clear space" for someone to achieve in. That is costly and difficult. But I see remarkable results when I clear away the distractions.

Now, if the person is distraction free and is still not performing to your expected level, then there is very likely either a competence problem or a motivation problem. Are they really motivated? Do they really have the skills they need? Time for some soul searching.

Craig Hamilton's advice: various ways to help people think and learn to be more effective

Great question. This is probably one of the main things I spend my time doing. My goal is to raise up volunteers to lead at a staff level (for us that means people who can lead teams of teams). 

Sometimes capacity issues are external (like sickness, new baby, family obligations) and to some degree capacity is seasonal. But I’m assuming you’re thinking people where those constraints are absent.

Here’s some thoughts, in order of simple/ elementary concepts to what I consider higher-order capacity building. That is I’m probably doing all of these at once but in some ways they build on each other:

1. Urgent/ important matrix

Just helping people come to grips with the distinction between urgent and important is profound. When people understand that doing important things now lessens the amount of urgent things later can be a bit of a watershed. Also having the team understand that just because it’s urgent for you doesn’t make it important for me helps people with the ability to say “no”, which seems to be an issue that slows a lot of great people down.

2. Rolling 6 weeks

People aren’t that good at seeing the big picture, they quickly get sucked into the details (at least the people I work with do). So just helping them with rudimentary planning seems effective. I teach them a rolling 6 week calendar. Get a whiteboard, divide it into 6 squares, each square is an upcoming week, put the date each week starts in each box and underline the current week. Write in the big rocks - the events, appointments and due dates for each week. If there are things due in week 6 you might put a start date in an early week. As each week passes rub it out and in it’s place write the upcoming week (which will be 6 weeks away) in the box and fill in the details. Underline the current week.

This helps people see around the corner and pace themselves and get more done because they’re aware.

3. 1-2-3

In all my meetings we’ll always talk through briefly and write down a 1-2-3 for each person. 1 is one high impact task that if that’s all you did in the next period it would have the most impact and get the most done. 2 is two problems or blockages that you’re currently facing (and the implication is ‘that we might be able to help you with’). And the 3 is the three next concrete steps you need to take, write that email, make that call, find that bible passage, have that conversation etc.

Sometimes what someone thinks is the high impact task isn’t, and I’ll redirect them to what is actually what they need to tackle.

Again this helps people change how they think, from busyness and mindless doing to effectiveness and closing that execution gap between what we plan and say and what actually ends up happening. 

4. Peer-group pressure

If there’s a particular area that I want someone to grow in capacity in I’ll try and get them to spend time with someone else who is good at it, or has more capacity than them. Whether it’s someone from another church or context or ministry. In a lot of ways growing in capacity is about spending time with high capacity people. In a lot of ways capacity is about social norms in that if you spend a lot of time around lazy, ineffective people who don’t do much there’s a good chance you’ll become like them.

5. Focussed energy projects

I get people to think: over the next term what are the 6 areas in your responsibility/ life that you can see if you poured a bit of focused energy there it would have greater benefit than usual? Is there a person, a team, a project, that would benefit from some focused energy. Write those down and diary in some time to put some energy there.

6. Task forces

This is my favourite. If I’ve got someone I’m building up to be a high-level leader, to think strategically and more holistically, someone who could lead over a higher area, when I gather an ad-hoc team to tackle a big problem, or plan a bigger event or whatever, I’ll invite the up-and-comer to that team. Having them rub shoulders with people a level or two ahead of them, be involved in those higher-level conversations, even take on some responsibilities at that level that have consequences if they drop the ball, all that is so impactful and in my opinion is the best way to build capacity and bring people to that next level as a leader. They feel that responsibility, the trust you have given them by inviting them and the self-designation that comes along with that is a powerful internal motivator.

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Growing your church up Part 2: Communication is not the job of the secretary

As a group gets bigger and older, it's hard to communicate sufficiently with everyone in informal ways. Communication needs to be more constant, deliberate, thorough and consistent.

Also, as a group gets bigger and older, vision leaks quicker. You can't assume that people just absorb it from the tight-knit group - it needs to be spelled out regularly. And so communication needs to be richer and more full of the reasoning behind things and the goals for things.

And so that means we need to stop thinking of communication as a 'mere admin' job. Disparaging administration is a great unfairnesss to administrators. But the point is, pastors and leaders must stop thinking of communication as a 'routine', 'secetarial', 'unimportant' thing.

Communication is a big deal. Getting communication right is important. And so leaders need to be more involved and engaged with things like bulletins, announcements, websites, Facebook Pages and promotions.

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