"You can have my sympathy or my respect, take your pick."
Anonymous Web Comment

On its face this comment is insightful.  I am not sure, however, that I agree with it wholeheartedly...

Maybe it works as a platitude to apply to my own self-pity, and perhaps something to teach my children.  But I don't think it is a helpful way for me to think about treating others.

So perhaps it is better said:

"People will either give you respect, or give you sympathy, but they will rarely give you both."


Why I am Politically Disengaged

I am intentionally disengaged from the political process in our country.

To be clear, I voted in our recent election, indeed I have only opted out of voting once in my life.  I care about the direction of our country.  I am moderately informed about the policies that we create and enforce.  I have opinions about what those policies ought to be.  There are even a few people that I will discuss those opinions with from time to time.

So what do I mean when I say I am disengaged politically?

   I don't listen to 24-hour news media (right or left).
   I don't rant on social media.
   I don't put bumper stickers on my car.
   I don't call people communist.
   I don't call people racist.

I am disgusted by the vapidity and rancor of those who do these things, so I opt out.

Whats more, in the end I don't care too much who gets elected, or how things unfold.  I don't get angry or afraid, nor do I get excited or hopeful.  I definitely don't think about trying to have any significant effect on the process.  Indeed, US politics is like the weather in that I can no more change the course of our nation by voting than I can make it rain by spitting in the air.

The interesting part is that I actually studied Political Science in college.  For years I studied our political process formally, and sat around talking politics with my friends informally.  It was an enjoyable pastime, something akin to golf or chess.  We didn't yell, or call names; we were dispassionate.  Something in our national discourse, however, has changed.

In my mind it changed in connection with the 2000 election, but I may be wrong about that.  What I am not wrong about, is that I used to be able to sit with a group of people and talk politics without anyone name-calling, crying, yelling, or running out of the room.  In the years since leaving college it is increasingly unlikely for this to happen.

I may be wrong about the causes, but my suspicion is that the rise of social media and the 24 hour news cycle are to blame for this.  We are now inundated with conflict-mongering "news" channels that have to create drama in order to boost ratings.  This means we have to find the one KKK member, or the one Communist Party member, and put them on camera to create the idea that our nation is locked in combat between crazy people.  In order to make money they sell the story that the KKK and the Communist Party each represent 50% of our nation.  (In reality these groups together represent approximately 1 in 50,000 Americans.)

What is more, we then take our fear and anger and broadcast it without a filter, to everyone in our online social network.  It then gets re-broadcasted as fodder for the conflict-mongering cycle to continue.

As a follower of Jesus, my response is to simply walk away.

To be continued...


Christians and the Politics of Poverty

     The government should be responsible for alleviating poverty in our country.

     The government should not be responsible for alleviating poverty in our country.

As a Christian,* you can support either of those positions without violating your faith in God.  As a Christian, however, you cannot stop there.  Regardless of your political persuasion, a follower of Jesus is compelled to engage personally and sacrificially in the plight of those living in poverty.

Both of the statements often serve as an excuse to avoid following the clear teaching of Jesus.  We are taught to love our neighbor, and to help those who are hurting in any way.  This is not an action that we can ignore, nor is it an action that we can delegate to others by virtue of our vote.

Regardless of our politics, we must follow the example of Jesus, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching of Scripture, to get personally involved.  To fail to do so would undoubtedly violate our faith in God.

*If you are not a Christian, then you can safely ignore these words.


Synergy: Pt VI

Material taken from a podcast by John Lee and Steven Schenk for UNITE WNY

Synergy is defined as "the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of the separate effects." Another way of thinking about synergy is when one person does a single task that serves the goals and mission of two separate organizations. All that is necessary for synergy to happen in ministry is for us to be willing to let go of our need for control over, and credit for, the use of our own skills and resources, and a willingness to see ourselves as belonging to the same team.

Our Ask

Use your time, talent, and treasure to accomplish God’s will for our world. First, develop a collaborative relationship with a ministry leader.  Second, help your church efficiently pursue Kingdom goals.  Third, use your network, skills, resources to advance God’s plan in our region and our world.  God wants you to bring your ingenuity and focus to the work, it is vital to the task at hand.


Synergy: Pt V

Material taken from a podcast by John Lee and Steven Schenk for UNITE WNY

Advice for Working with Ministry-Folks

First, recognize that pastors aren’t businesspeople.  While it seems unnecessary to say this, it actually isn’t.  As a business leader you will be tempted to think of pastors as stupid businesspeople.  Again, they aren’t stupid businesspeople, because they aren’t businesspeople.  They have a whole different set of values, paradigms, networks, and even vocabulary.  Many businesspeople have had experience working in other countries, it would be helpful to think of relationships with ministry leaders as a cross-cultural relationship.  Be patient, and persistent.

Second, pastors are trained to teach and counsel, not lead and manage.  Some pastors are great at this, others are horrible.  But most pastors are placed in positions where leadership and management skills are necessary without any training or experience in leading and managing.  Often it takes new pastors years to even recognize that managing an organization and leading a worship service are two fundamentally different tasks.  Be patient, and persistent.

Third, recognize that pastors are leaders and that this means they have sizeable egos.  Just like all leaders, they tend to think of themselves as the smartest people in the room, even on subjects about which they are clueless.  Having a degree in Biblical Languages doesn’t automatically prepare you to make church budgeting decisions.  Business leaders have made enormous and costly mistakes because they trusted their own egos and pastors do the same thing.  This means business leaders should be especially sensitive to the power dynamics in the relationships, many pastors have been taught that they need to be the person with all of the answers to everything pertaining to the church.  It may be hard for them to accept your expertise, until you have won their trust.  Recognizing their expertise while offering yours, will go along way toward easing this reality.  Be patient, and persistent.

Fourth, most pastors have a very different decision making process than most business leaders.  Pastors usually start with theology, then work through philosophy, then relationships and emotions, before finally figuring out what tasks they should perform.  Business leaders almost invariably work the other way around.  Proposing tasks and arguing out the best way to engage in mission is the way in which philosophy of business questions get answered, and the way in which partnerships get built.  Most business leaders prioritize mission and action, most church leaders prioritize theology and relationships.  This difference in fundamental process can be frustrating, but be patient and persistent.

Fifth, recognize that the church operates in some “false dichotomies” or some faulty paradigms.  There are ways that Christians and churches have come to think and live that are actually out of alignment with Scripture.  The division between what is sacred and what is secular is not a biblical division.  The very first person that the Bible records being “filled with the Holy Spirit” was not a pastor or a prophet, but a craftsman.  God has given business leaders important skills that are equally valuable to the Kingdom.  It is simply not the case that strategic planning, or budgets, or any other business tool is inherently “un-spiritual.”  Persistently bring your skills to the table.

Finally, recognize that ministry leaders have skills, wisdom, and resources that you lack and we need each other to be the church of Christ.  Offer your gifts, and receive theirs.  Work together to advance God’s Kingdom.


Synergy: Pt IV

Material taken from a podcast by John Lee and Steven Schenk for UNITE WNY

Examples of Ministry/Business Collaboration

  1. A pastor and a retired businessman from two different congregations in the same city, have become friends and ministry partners.  They strategize together, network, organize, and advocate for common projects.  Together they have been involved in the creation of several Kingdom endeavors in the area.

  1. Pastors have volunteered their time at a local community health center providing spiritual care, and helping to establish a program that was ultimately brought in house.  This is a collaboration of business leaders, ministry leaders, and medical professionals.

  1. Several churches have provided volunteers for a work readiness program operated by a local parachurch organization.  This program provides soft skills training to underemployed individuals currently receiving government assistance.  Program participants are finding work, connecting to a mentor, hearing about the love of God, connecting to churches and bible-studies, and changing the trajectory of their family.

  1. Several churches and organizations have collaborated in support of an urban farming initiative that employs neighborhood teens, provides affordable high quality food to neighborhood markets, and creates multiple opportunities for neighbors and employees to experience the love of God.  A key question in the management of the farm is “how can we use the market as an engine to drive Kingdom endeavors?”

  1. A semi-retired businessman is a member of a church that is not big enough to hire a full staff.  He has become the “consultant” to his church leadership team (who are almost all volunteers) on matters of strategic planning, ministry task management, and efficiency.


Synergy: Pt III

Material taken from a podcast by John Lee and Steven Schenk for UNITE WNY

The Kingdom Assets of the Business World

The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the way the church works.  This metaphor helps us to understand that each individual and group of Christians have their own important gifts to bring to the table.  This metaphor also makes it clear, just how imperative it is that we all work in concert with one another, and under the guidance of Christ, our head!  So what are the gifts that business leaders bring to the table?

We assert that there are four levels of praxis for Kingdom-minded business leaders.  They are not necessarily in order of importance, although they are in order of complexity.  The first two levels are important to note, but it is the second two levels that are the focus of our conversation here.

The first level is the basic call to generosity, integrity, and witness. Business leaders often represent significant financial resources.  These resources should be handled with integrity.  Money should be recognized as ultimately belonging to God, and should be handled with great generosity.  All of this should be done with the awareness that how Christians handle money will declare to the world precisely who (or what) it is that we worship.  This is where John Wesley’s adage to “earn all you can, give all you can, and save all you can,” is appropriate.

The second level is the call to produce “good goods.”  All business people are fulfilling the needs of the market.  This is usually a good thing in and of itself.  Christian business people will ensure that it is always a good thing.  They won't just provide goods, they will provide “good goods.”  Christian business leaders will provide goods and services that are beneficial to individuals and to our world.  People genuinely need household goods, furniture, cars, and clothes.  People’s lives are enriched by insurance and medical supplies, restaurants and gas stations, computers and books.  Providing these goods and services for people can actually serve to make the world a better place.  Business leaders provide legitimate blessing to our world by serving in this way, and ought to see it as an essential piece of their vocation and witness to do so.

The third level is the invitation to use business skills to organize and manage the local church more efficiently in the pursuit of its mission.  The average church in America has approximately 70 members.  This means the majority of congregations are being lead by a single pastor with volunteer support.  Most ministry leaders are trained and skilled at teaching the scriptures, navigating the intersection of theology and culture, leading prayer and worship, providing compassion and hospitality, and counseling in the practice of the faith.  Most ministry leaders, however, lack the practical skills of organizational leadership and management, not to mention financial planning and management.

We advocate for business leaders to be participating in the leadership of every local church.  In a myriad of ways (evaluating financial decisions, leading strategic planning, managing the tasks of ministry, creating systems of organization, or navigating interactions with the local bank) business leaders can either come alongside ministry leaders as coaches and mentors, or can simply perform specific tasks and roles in the congregation directly.

Perhaps an appropriate analogy would be the running of a successful restaurant.  Pastors are like the chef with expertise in the kitchen; successful restaurants require a solid chef, but they also require a solid business manager, and rarely do those two skill sets coexist in a single individual.  Christian business leaders should seek to play the “restaurant manager” role in their churches so that pastors can focus on their role as “chef.”  When this kind of symbiotic relationship exists, the local congregation will be functioning at high capacity towards its mission, just like a body with all of its limbs and organs working together efficiently for a single purpose.

The fourth level is the use of business assets to engage in community development outside the church.  Communities need many things to flourish, many of those things are directly related to the unique skill-set of business leaders.  Employment, physical infrastructure, healthcare, and education, are vital to the health of any community.  Business leaders are essential players in the creation and maintenance of the various systems, organizations, and institutions that provide these things for any community.

It is both vital and appropriate that business leaders will use their resources and skills to provide for their own family, but Christian business leaders will go beyond this and use their resources and skills to provide for the community at large.  Instead of simply building the most successful business, Christian business leaders will also ask questions about the needs of the surrounding community.  Christian business leaders are willing to sacrifice maximal profits in order to create jobs for underemployed communities, create necessary infrastructure in impoverished neighborhoods, or provide goods and services that the community needs.

The temptation for the church (and for business people!) is to conceive of business leaders as the wallet for the church.  The reality is, however, that the most important Kingdom asset business leaders possess is not money, it is the skills, the practices, the relational networks, the paradigms, and the experiences that are important.  Christian business leaders, your money is not what God wants, what He wants is you!