I Will Follow

keyboardI am not a very good follower.

I like control. I like to see the steps that I am taking and just where my foot is gonna fall. I don’t trust easily and even when I trust, I still have to see enough of the road ahead for me to feel like whoever I am following knows what they’re doing, even if that someone happens to be God (as if he doesn’t know where he’s going and I do).

It’s a funny place to be when you kind of know where you are going but the details aren’t all ironed out. It’s like, you know what the destination is but you aren’t quite sure what the actual route you’re gonna take to get there looks like. The Israelites through the desert may be too vivid of a picture to better understand that.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life in full-time ministry trying to prove to people that I am more than a label, more than a role, more than the box that so many have tried to put me in. It’s been somewhat exhausting, to be honest. For how much I hate labels, you would think I wouldn’t use them as often as I do. Maybe I just hate them when they apply (or don’t apply) to me.

I’ve always been one who does more than most people know. Behind the scenes, there’s a whole heck of a lot more going on than most people will see and I generally don’t care whether or not everyone knows what I’m doing. As long as things are getting done and moving along, I don’t typically care who gets the credit.

The problem with this approach is that you can easily get pigeon-holed, people think that you’re more two dimensional than you really are and label you by what they see, not by what you really are.

My journey over the last few years has been a journey of pressing into the things that I know I’m good at doing. That doesn’t mean I avoid the things that I’m not good at doing, it means that I look to surround myself with others who excel in those areas. It’s a journey of living into strengths and relying on and empowering others in the places where their strengths lie.

As much as I don’t usually care what others think about me, when I’ve been labeled, especially falsely so, I struggle with that label. I don’t like to wear it when it’s either not true or only part of the story. It’s restrictive because it’s wrong or incomplete, not because I don’t like to wear it. But if we’re all honest, there are just some outfits that we don’t look good in, even if those outfits are metaphorical and not physical.

So, my tendency is to run away from the labels. If I know that there is more to the story, I want to tell the rest of the story rather than reading the same old section over and over. Why rehash on what you already know when there is so much more to the story to hear, to learn, to tell?

I’ve kind of been in that place of running. Not from everything. In fact, I’ve been running towards some things that are incredibly uncomfortable, that are taking an awful lot of faith. But I’ve been running away from certain things that have felt restrictive, that have felt confining and incomplete.

Sometimes, we have to do that. If we’ve got a healthy dose of self-awareness, we should know ourselves better than the ones who throw the labels on us. We should know if there is more to the story to be told and we shouldn’t really be afraid to tell that part of the story, regardless of the pushback that we might get from other people. I’m all about telling the whole story, no matter how uncomfortable that might make certain people, no matter how much they might want to dwell on their favorite part of the story (even when it’s not true).

A few months ago, I met a new pastor in the area. In our brief introduction, it sounded like we had some common interests and visions for the future. So, we connected over lunch and the story of that friendship is still being written.

In our lunch conversation, he said something that really stuck out to me. He had a similar musical background to mine and he told me that he had put it aside since he came here. I could relate, I had been trying to put mine aside for some time because it was the label that I had reluctantly worn. But, he said, when the people who had known him for and with that gift came back into town and saw him not using it, they asked him why he had put it aside, why he wasn’t using it.

When he said that, his words hit me right between the eyes.

I had been running from something that I was good at because it was only telling a portion of the story. But that part of the story was some people’s favorite part, and they weren’t going to let it go. That doesn’t really fly well with an Enneagram 8, the Challenger. Don’t tell me what to do or who to be, I will resist.

But God has a funny way of bringing you back around, especially when you don’t necessarily follow or trust well. He may bring you back to the very thing you’ve avoided just to remind you what he’s given you and what you’re supposed to be doing with it.

That’s kind of been what’s happened lately. I’ve avoided music, legitimately avoided it, because I was tired of being labeled by it, but God doesn’t care how others label me, he only cares how he created me. If he wants you to live into how he’s created you, it’s gonna happen.

So, in the course of ten days, I find myself not just playing music again, but playing a lot of music. Four times in a ten day period. Four fairly unique and different venues. Four different ways for me to use the gifts he’s given me and not avoid them anymore.

In the midst of using those gifts though, a funny thing happened, I realized that I kind of enjoyed using those gifts, I just didn’t want to be labeled by them. I found myself with new friends in a setting that I’d been in many times before, and everything clicked, it all fit together.

From a musical perspective, that doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve sat through plenty of rehearsals (led a ton of them) where things just wouldn’t click. Whether it was the timing or the harmonies or pitch, something kept it from getting to the place where everything fit together well. And those times are beyond frustrating, especially when you know how it’s supposed to fit together and sound.

But then there are those other times, when you pull pieces together that have existed separately until the moment you pull them together (God pulls them together?) and when you do, they just fit. And when I say they fit, I mean they fit well. The work is effortless, the results are beautiful, and when you’re done, you wonder just how you experienced what you had just experienced.

I’m still skeptical. I still don’t like labels. I still don’t want to be stuck in a hole in which some keep trying to put me. But I’m also seeing this through my identity in Christ. That identity isn’t defined by those around me, nor should it be heavily influenced by their myopic view of it. God sees me as I am, as he’s made me. As Brennan Manning wrote, God loves me as I am, not as I am supposed to be. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see my potential and desire to move me there, but his love for me isn’t based on getting to that place, that would be a love based on my work, not his.

Yes, I’m a terrible follower, but I’m learning to follow God a little better every day. I don’t like following when I feel like there’s a better way, a more productive way. I’m not always crazy to take the scenic route, even when the scenic route involves being used more effectively than I might choose for myself. But I’m getting to the place where I care less about how people want to see me and I care more for how God sees me and the potential that he has for me.

It’s a somewhat unnerving and painful journey. It’s a loss of control, but who said that I actually had the control to begin with?

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Know Your Limits

I was sitting in a local coffee shop the other day and a couple came in looking for breakfast options. The guy behind the counter told them that their breakfast options were limited and then proceeded to tell them about a place down the street that had a more full breakfast menu. The couple thanked him and headed out the door to the little diner down the street.

As I sat there, enthralled with what had just played out before me, I couldn’t help but think about the wisdom in knowing your limitations, in knowing what you can offer and what you can’t. This played out before me in a small little cafe, but I wondered why it doesn’t play out more in churches.

In this church planting journey that I have been on, I’ve thought a lot about churches and what they can and can’t do. I’ve thought a lot about trying to be all things to all people. I’ve wondered what keeps pastors from being secure enough in who they are and who their church is to tell people who are looking for something that they won’t find there that it might not be the place for them.

It’s far more tempting when new people come into your church to do your best to woo them and persuade them that this is the place for them, even if they are looking for something that you can’t give them. It’s far more difficult to be honest and tell them that you know a place that might be a better fit for them. I know that there are pastors out there who actually do that, recommend that people find what they’re looking for down the street, across town, or somewhere else.

In the long run, knowing limitations, both personally and as a church, will help us be more effective. I’ve learned that over the past few years, improving in the area of delegation, not to get out of working but to free myself up to do the things that I do best. Why is it that pastors and churches struggle to do what this coffee shop attendant did? Why do we struggle to know our limitations, admit our limitations, and live into the things at which we excel?

As I embark on this journey, what are the top reasons why I need to follow the example of this coffee shop attendant?

1) It helps to solidify and cast vision

I have a friend and mentor who planted a church years ago. His church has grown to be one of the largest in the area. While it might all seem like it came easily, he can share war stories and show the scars that he’s earned to get to the place where he is at. The one consistent story he has told is of the “vision wranglers” who came to the church with high expectations of what they were looking for and what they thought needed to be offered. Listening to them rather than pursuing the God given vision that you have been given will lead to a distorted vision and a confusing pursuit of that.

If a decision making process is formed to analyze opportunities and offerings within a church to ensure that they are aligned with the vision, it will go a long way in not only preventing burnout but also enforcing, solidifying, and casting that vision. When people ask if you offer something and you answer, “That doesn’t really align with the vision that God has given us,” people might not like it, but they will know what that vision is and how it drives everything that you do as a church.

2) It allows you to focus on your strengths

I could write an entire post on strengths and my own journey in them, but for the sake of this post, I’ll keep it brief. Focusing on strengths is far more fulfilling than focusing on weaknesses. That’s not to say that God doesn’t call us to grow in areas of weakness and rely on him, but I firmly believe that we still need to lean into him even when we are operating in our strengths. Just because something is your strength doesn’t mean you do it perfectly.

Focusing on the things that we are good at helps us be more effective and efficient as individuals. It makes sense that when we take it to a more corporate and communal level to the church that the same should be true. If we know the strengths of our faith community, we should live into them rather than trying to be like the other faith community down the street or across town.

When we try to do the things that we aren’t good at, not only do we become less efficient and effective, we also suffer from an identity crisis. We fail to see who God has created us to be and long to be other than who he has made us. In our pursuit of another identity, we basically tell God that we’re not satisfied with who he made us and we’d much rather be something else.

3) It helps to appreciate the vastness and diversity of the body of Christ

If the body of Christ is as diverse as Paul seems to describe it as in his letters, then maybe we aren’t all meant to do everything. There’s something to be said about a hand doing things that hands were meant to do. Same can be said of feet doing things that feet were meant to do. But an arm was never meant to smell, a leg was never meant to taste, a foot was never mean to see. Likewise, the nose, tongue, and eyes weren’t meant to do the things that arms, legs, and feet do.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging our limitations. In fact, I think that when we acknowledge those limitations, we begin to see just how vast and diverse the body of Christ is and appreciate the gifts of others. While we may still long to be something other than we are, if we humble ourselves, I think God can bring us to the place where we gain more appreciation for the gifts of others, especially when we know how hard it is to try to live into those things.

At the same time, hopefully others come to that same place and begin to appreciate us and the gifts that God has given to us.

This is all fine and good in theory, in fact, someone told me last week that I had a lot of theories. That’s part of the beauty of this journey I find myself on, theories will be tried and tested. They will be proved or disproved. The nice thing is that this is one theory that I’ve seen played out for me by others who have gone before, so theory or not, successful or not in my case, it’s been proven before.

Ultimately, my heart is about being part of God’s kingdom work in this world. That’s not always easy, it’s not without challenges, but I think that it can go a long way towards removing some of those challenges when we begin to live in to who God has made us, both as individuals and communities, and let others live into who they are. If we find ourselves living into that, I think we will begin to see what many of us have prayed for over and over again, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Reading People – A Book Review

reading peopleUnless you’re a hermit living on a deserted island or in some isolated place, you interact with people. Some of those interactions are good, others are not so good. When we interact with people, it can easily seem personal when there is conflict and misunderstanding, but chances are, things aren’t really as personal as we think they are. In fact, people are looking at the situation from their own perspective, point of view, and most likely seeing things differently than the way that we do.

Anne Bogel shares her experience and how she has improved her interactions with people in her book “Reading People.” She says, “The more I’ve learned about personality, the more I’ve discovered how powerful this knowledge can be.” She spends the entire book looking at various personality frameworks that help to see into the depth of a person and gain understanding and insights. Just because they aren’t us doesn’t make them crazy, Bogel says, it just makes them different.

Bogel takes a chapter for each of these frameworks that she explains. Some of them are interconnected but look at varying perspectives using a similar tool. She gives overviews of the five love languages, Keirsey’s temperaments, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Clifton StrengthsFinder, the enneagram, as well as looking at introverts and extraverts, highly sensitive people, and the MBTI cognitive functions. With each chapter, Bogel shares about her experience with it as well as her own insights. She points the reader to various resources for additional reading and study on the various frameworks.

Bogel sums it all well in the last chapter of the book when she writes, “Some people resist personality frameworks because they say such frameworks put them in a box. I’ve found that understanding my personality helps me step out of the box I’m trapped in. When I understand myself, I can get out of my own way.” When people begin to see how helpful these frameworks are for understanding themselves and other people, the resistance seems to dissipate.

I am a trained Strengths Communicator and have worked extensively with people and their Clifton StrengthsFinder. I have also worked with a number of the other frameworks and I think this book is a good resource for someone to give a high level overview. There are enough resources listed within the book that point people to additional information should they want to go deeper into any or all of these frameworks.

I was disappointed that Bogel did not connect this more with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and how we are shaped and formed by God. When I work with people and their strengths, if it is through the church or a faith-based organization, I will include language about that. There are easy connections, in my opinion, between seeing how God has put us together and how that comes out in our personalities. We can see how purposeful and intentional God was in creating us the way that we are and we can seek ways to allow ourselves to be changed as our personalities are shaped and formed over the course of our lives.

If you have only recently heard about some of these frameworks and are looking to get more information before digging deep into one or all of them, “Reading People” is a great resource to give you some more focus. Bogel does a great job of sharing her own stories and connecting them to her learning in all of these different frameworks. Pick up a copy and get on your way to a better understanding of yourself and other people.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Strengths Based Marriage

The Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment is used to assess the top five strengths of an individual. While everyone has all of the 34 signature strengths themes in the assessment, everyone is unique in the combination of those strengths that make up their top five. While there may be others in the world with the same combination of strengths as you, the probability is fairly small. Understanding your strengths is key to growth and development.strengths-based-marriage

StrengthsFinders’ emphasis is to focus your energy and efforts on the strengths that are your top five, the strengths where you have the most capacity for growth and development. Focusing on your bottom five strengths is actually an exercise in futility as you not only focus on areas where your capacity is at the least but it also takes the focus away from the areas where you have the greatest capacity.

As a certified Strengths Communicator, I was very interested to read “Strengths Based Marriage” by Jimmy Evans and Allan Kelsey. As I’ve studied strengths, I have been curious to know how those strengths affect and impact our relationships with one another as well as the various roles which we fill in our lives. Evans and Kelsey look at marriage from their areas of expertise as marriage counselor and strengths expert, respectively.

They begin their book with an introduction to strengths, which is helpful for those who have not had significant experience with StrengthsFinders. I imagine that most people who pick up this book will have had some experience with StrengthsFinders to even open the book. The standard assessment for StrengthsFinders simply gives one their top five strengths yet Evans and Kelsey talk about the top ten and bottom five strengths. In order to get the full assessment with all thirty-four themes, the price is significantly more than just the standard assessment. Many books that talk of StrengthsFinders include an assessment code, something that this book does not include. It would be helpful to at least include an assessment code for the basic assessment and give the reader an understanding of the cost of the full assessment, even possibly offering a discount code for the full assessment.

Evans and Kelsey tackle each subject from their respective expertise, dividing each chapter into two parts, from a marriage counselor perspective and then from a strengths expert perspective. They share out of their own experience and give some practical examples of how strengths play out in their own marriages. They also share from their experience with various individuals and couples that they have worked with in the past. For those who are unfamiliar with the language of strengths, they use the language simply enough to be understood, in my opinion.

While there are times when they seem to repeat themselves, I think that “Strengths Based Marriage” was a good book. The authors offer practical steps toward improving communication, bringing healing, and strengthening a marriage. If nothing else, this book could help couples become more self-aware and more intentional and observant in their relationships.

The authors are realistic in their use of strengths as well, never claiming that the language and application of strengths can act like a “magic bullet” of sorts to bring complete healing and restoration to broken marriages. As Kelsey writes, “What I am trying to point out is that our strengths act like lenses, coloring the various activities of our lives and making us choose one thing over another.” StrengthsFinders is simply one more tool to help communicate and possibly improve relationships. The relationships that this book addresses are marriages. Whether your marriage is on the rocks or doing well, “Strengths Based Marriage” can be a helpful resource for improvements.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Always Someone Smarter

As I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable in my own skin, I’ve seen the benefits of team. I’ve seen just how important it is to build trust in a team setting. I’ve also seen just how important it is to put aside any jealousy and animosity if the team is going to be healthy and succeed.

I’ve worked with StrengthsFinders over the years, but over the last 6 months, I have been diving in deeper as I have become a Strengths Communicator. It’s given me the chance to work with people on teams in order for them to better know their place with the talents and strengths that they have. When we come to understand our strengths as well as the strengths of those with whom we are on the team, we can grow much more effective and efficient.

I remember playing on sports teams in high school. There was always the inevitable “showboater” who wanted to make sure that it always became about him. Most coaches wouldn’t fall for it, and were usually turned off by that kind of behavior. But as I moved to the business world and even the church world, I began to see that same mentality play out among people. People wanted to make sure that they always got the glory for things and were never satisfied until they had achieved it.

But I’ve experienced something so much greater when humility penetrates that team and makes its way through all of the team members. People begin to look beyond themselves to see the bigger picture. Instead of trying to attain things for themselves, they’re looking at what will benefit the team. How can I ensure that the team will experience success? What can I do to make sure that we are all moving in the same direction?

Within the church, the motivation for the bigger picture should be even greater. It’s not about ourselves or even our individual churches, it’s about the Kingdom of God. Jesus laid out the bigger picture in Matthew 28 and when we miss it, we take the focus off of growing the Kingdom and plant it firmly on ourselves.

If we’re smart, we come to the realization that there is always someone smarter than us, stronger than us, better at something than us. IF we aren’t careful, that can rock our world and plant a root of jealousy among us. But if we look at it as being part of the bigger picture and serving together on a team, we can move much faster towards achieving our goals.

I used to be intimidated by others on the same team who had different gifts than I have, but then I realized that there were gifts that I had that were specific to me which they didn’t possess. It’s about knowing your place in the big picture, knowing what you’re good at, and knowing how best to use those gifts which you’ve been given.

Some people think that holding onto things and monopolizing information or functions actually affords them job security. I’ve grown to realize that the opposite is true. If there is something that I am doing and someone else comes along who does it better, how willing am I to give that task up? If I hang on to it because I am afraid that I will no longer be necessary, than I’m not really confident in my own abilities. But, if I realize the potential of someone else and can lead them to doing something better, I actually prove my worth by encouraging them, leading and coaching them, and allowing them to live into a potential that someone else might not have seen.

It’s amazing the opportunities that I’ve had which have helped me grow. I hope and pray that I will always look at people on my team as assets rather than threats. When I’ve had leaders who have known their own limitations, I’ve been much more productive. I hope that my leadership can flourish in grow in the same way.

Strengths and Learning

Last week, I celebrated my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Just one week before my wife and I got married, we took part in a leadership seminar at our church. During the course of that seminar, we took a number of personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and an assessment called StrengthsFinders. It was something new to me then but over the course of these last fifteen years, not only has it been helpful to me but it has informed much of what I do, how I interact with others, and how I lead others.

It’s hard for me to think of a time when StrengthsFinders didn’t come up over the past fifteen years. In conversations that my wife and I would have, we would talk about each other’s strengths and the strengths of others. It helped us in our understanding of ourselves, each others, and those around us.

It’s fitting that I take off today for the first of two training sessions to be a Strengths Communicator. When it’s all over, I will have the opportunity to lead others through StrengthsFinders so that it can hopefully be as helpful to them as it has been to me. I will be able to guide other people in their understanding of this valuable assessment so that they too might reap the benefits of knowing where their strengths lie.

A brief overview of StrengthsFinders for those who are not familiar with it is probably in order. There are 34 signature themes that everyone possesses, the most common talents exhibited by people, identified through the Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment. The assessment gives a person their top five strengths so that people can focus on those strengths, improving them and using them to the best of their abilities. These strengths range from Communication, Empathy, Developer. Relator, Context, and Woo. They give fairly accurate descriptions of how those who possess them exhibit them in their natural behavior.

At some point in my professional career, I started feeling a discomfort whenever it came time for year-end reviews. I appreciated the opportunity to be encouraged for the good things that I had done, but I felt that the encouragement was just a flicker of a moment compared to what I would hear when it came to all of the areas of improvement that I had.

To be honest, when I was working in the engineering field, I’m not sure that I felt this as strong as I did when I went into full-time vocational ministry. I remember a time when I sat in a review and was so pleased to hear the positive feedback that I was getting…..in the first five minutes. After that, it was all downhill, and I just scratched my head. It didn’t make sense to me. I had worked hard all year long, had good interaction with my supervisor, and yet I felt as if I was failing…..BIG TIME!

A few years later, that supervisor began to get trained in StrengthsFinders. I vividly remember walking out of our building together at the end of the day having spent a few days together with all of our staff talking through the make-up of our staff and their strengths. He looked at me and said, “Do you know what the biggest “a ha” moment has been in this whole thing? It’s you!” I looked at him and thoughts, “Well, it’s about time.” I was grateful that I was finally going to be understood.

Just a few weeks later, he resigned.

I was discouraged. I had finally felt as if I was going to experience a breakthrough. I thought that I would finally be fully understood and would finally be able to focus on my strengths. It felt like a major letdown for me, but I would continue to push forward, doing my best to broaden my own understanding and the understanding of everyone around me. After all, how else can change happen other than spreading the word and educating people?

Along the way, I began to realize that focusing on all of my weaknesses was going to drive me crazy. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly seeking to be transformed. Constantly. Growth and change should be part of who we are…..always….with no exception. We should be able to say that we are not who we once were. At the same time, understanding my strengths and using them to my advantage seemed to be a good focal point for me.

The more that I studied strengths, the more I realized how valuable it could be if organizations used them to their advantage. What would it look like if teams of people who worked together were to look at their strengths to help them better understand themselves and each other? What would it look like if people began to see how they complemented one another as they worked together towards a common goal?

I’ve got lots of theories how this can help me and the teams with whom I work, but only time will tell whether or not these theories are correct and if they can translate to others. Knowing how helpful that they have been to me over the last fifteen years and how helpful it’s been in my understanding of those around me.

I am sure that these next few days will feel like drinking from the firehose. Beyond these days and my additional days in August, I can’t wait to start putting into practice what I learn to see whether focusing on people’s strengths in an organization will be as helpful as I think it will be.