Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And Away We Go

I am trying to catch loose ends before I leave for a project with Medical Ministry International in the Dominican Republic tomorrow morning. Point form here we go:

-I am very excited about the time with MMI. They (Leanne Graham in particular) have been amazing in the process of making arrangements for this trip after two previous attempts didn't work out.

-I haven't been in a cross-cultural situation in a while. Hope I can still fake enough Spanish to not offend people too much.

-Catalyst just approved a refined funding strategy for this year (focusing on preparing for granting in September). I am very excited about our approach and look forward to explaining it here and on our website later in July.

-Books I'm taking with me for the Dominican project and a week's vacation afterwards:
Out of Poverty - Paul Polak
Making the Best Of It - John Stackhouse
Wishful thinking - Frederick Buechner
Forgotten ways - Alan Hirsch

-The "What is missional?" synchroblog was an interesting experience that I would probably repeat. Great variety of perspectives, but overall too academic and impersonal from where I sit.

-I'll be out of touch until July 14th. Peace to you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Is Missional?

This is my contribution to the synchroblog coordinated by the Blind Beggar. See all the other contributions here.

What is “Missional”?
This is an intriguing thing; this “synchroblog”. A large part of me is very excited to participate and to read what other people have to say about the latest evangelical buzzword. I’m counting on a wide variety of perspectives and insights.

At the same time there is something strangely egocentric about there being 50 of us who have self-selected in the belief that other people could care at all about our unpolished ideas and commentary. There is something rather odd about it…

But anyway; I am a former pastor who now has no regular outlet for my ranting that used to be encapsulated in 28 minutes every Sunday so here goes:

I am simultaneously excited and skeptical about this missional thing. In so many ways it seems to be what’s really missing in the lives of most Christians and congregations I know. It has the potential to be truly meaningful in the community where I live (a middle (upper-middle) class suburb about 45 minutes west of Toronto); and offers perhaps something more than just a needed corrective program to the current expressions of Christian dullness.

But is it really that big of a deal?

I have my suspicions that to some degree this is a “movement” that is, and will be, almost entirely concentrated on clergy and Christian academics; like so many before. I wonder if what we’re supposedly catching as the lead wave of something special is just the book writers and conference speakers finally lifting their collective heads from their holy books just long enough to catch a whiff of the things the laity have known and lived for years; the faith of the pews simply doesn’t really relate to real life.

I may be having a cynical day, but it’s the pastors and professors who face the most change if this thing takes hold. For the vast majority it will remain the ongoing issue of trying to figure out how a 2000 year old book and a God-man who’s been missing for just as long can have any meaning in the carpool, corporate ladder, cable tv, and nod at your neighbor reality we’re immersed in.

Don’t let that sound like I’m disparaging the common Christian. Exactly the opposite! These are the people who have something to say about “missional”. They spend their days a part of the culture and community where the scholars are only now beginning to pay attention.

Most people aren’t concerned with the theologically dangerous issues raised by Newbigin. They (we?) aren’t all that concerned about coming up with a definition that requires the luxury of so much reading and reflecting. And they have little time or use for the antithetical arrogance that seems to so often colour the pronouncements of the experts.

But for the clergy this is monumental.

-What does it mean to a career pastor to “move into the neighbourhood” (thanks St. Eugene!), where our profession actually creates immediate distance and distrust from our neighbours?

-What happens after 5 years in the same congregation when the familiar bag of tricks have been used up and the system says it’s time to move on?

-How do we retain our spiritual leadership roles if we acknowledge that we are very much the amateurs when it comes to actually engaging the culture?

-What good are all our diligently developed skills in a world where authenticity trumps excellence?

-How do we lead churches when we’ve realized that in many cases the parachurch are the ones who really “get it”?

-How can we be evaluated (or evaluate ourselves!) when sincerity counts for more than performance?

-What happens when the theological trump cards lose their power?

It’s a scary world for the experts when the amateurs are out in front.

(Yeah, this is a skewed view and far from balanced or complete. Isn’t that what blogging is all about?)

What is Missional Synchroblog today

Here's the list of participants in the synchroblog on "What is missional?"
I'll post my thoughts later today.

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On a lighter note...

Recent posts have been fairly earnest. This should remedy that trend.

Re: Evaluation of Non-profits/ministries;

Cartoonist: Ed Koehler, 1984 and Christianity Today International/ Used with permission

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Best. Article. Ever.

There is no doubt that Jesus was and is a leader. However, in our quest to develop leaders we are often guilty of abusing the Biblical accounts of his life, death, and resurrection. My shelf contains several books claiming to draw leadership principles from the life of Jesus that we can all apply to our contexts today.

Stop now and read this article. I'll wait for you to get back.

Jesus was a poor leader by current corporate standards. That wasn't what he tried to accomplish. We can learn a huge amount from his teaching and example that is relevant to us as leaders and as followers, and we should. But when we make him a leadership guru we severely diminish the truth and grace he expresses.

Let us lead well, but never better than we follow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can you donate people out of poverty?

On The Hour tonight one of the guests is Paul Polak, founder of IDE. He is leading advocate of what some people call Market Driven Development. The basic idea is that traditional charity efforts are doomed in part simply because they are based around giving things to needy people for free.
Polak and others argue that this creates dependency, devalues what is provided, and treats the poor as inherently inferior. On the other hand, charging people for goods and services invites them into an exchange with some degree of mutuality, draws on their own intelligence and ingenuity, and increases the overall quality of both the provision and application of relief.
Obviously this is somewhat controversial. The immediate reaction is something like: "How can you expect people who have nothing to pay for things they need to survive?". What we may not realize is that our reaction itself betrays an attitude and assumption about poverty that may not be fully true. People in the field are discovering that the poor often have great resources in many ways. Effective strategies are being developed that draw on the innovative capacity, diligence, and sense of community that have commonly been ignored or merely romanticized.
IDE, our partners at Medical Ministry International, and some others are finding that there are remarkable benefits to be found in these kinds of innovations.
I am fascinated by this. It has enormous appeal to the entrepreneurial spirit that the Catalyst founders share.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Word of Mouth Realities

At the dentist's office this morning I saw a sign that said something like "The greatest compliment we can receive is you recommending our services to your friends and loved ones". Since the dentist is my brother-in-law I guess I'm included there.

The thing is; most of us involved in nonprofit work (like the for profit sector in most cases as well) are convinced that the most effective and efficient way to expand awareness, participation, and funding of our work is through the personal interactions of people who know and like what we do. When I was a pastor for a start up church congregation I was constantly encouraging our congregants to do just that, and often disappointed when it didn't seem to be happening.

Marketing guru Seth Godin lists several reasons why word of mouth doesn't happen. It sheds some light on some of my past experience and may be useful to consider for many others as well.

Fundraising Insight

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has posted a transcript of an interesting live discussion with marketing guru Seth Godin. It may not be entirely in depth; but I suspect some of the people at organizations we are interacting with would benefit from the quick read through.
A couple interesting insights for me:
-the difficulty of really understanding the difference between advertising (essentially spending money to promote your organization) and marketing (every interaction you have with people who may be or become supporters and clients)
-the need to carefully consider the interests of your intended audience (one size does not fit all)
-the importance of asking permission before sending requests for support in a culture inundated with spam
-the idea of separating annual reports (basically numbers) from other types of promotion (essentially stories) rather than merging them
-the need to try myriad different tools, test their effectiveness, and try myriad more
-having a sense of urgency because the work you are doing is truly important
-turning supporters into marketers by satisfying and equipping them

What have you seen that has been effective in spreading the word about nonprofits? What has flopped? Why?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Key To Happiness

When did you last feel deeply and enthusiastically happy?
Last week's Globe and Mail contained an article by Margaret Wente that expressed some of the latest research findings on happiness. (Yeah, they can get money to study anything these days).
Among the findings she describes if that the easiest life change we can make to increase our happiness is giving away money:
By the end of breakfast, Mr. Brooks has explained why almost everything I believed when I was 20 was entirely wrong. Many of the things I thought would bring me happiness did not, and many things that I despised (e.g., marriage) did. So what now? Alas, I'm not religious. Is there any other way to increase my happiness?

Yes, he tells me. Be philanthropic. People who volunteer or give money to charity are 43 per cent more likely than non-givers to say they are very happy. Conservatives are more charitable than liberals, which is another reason why they're happier. And the more you give, the happier you get.

In other words, money really can buy happiness after all - but only if you give it away.

It reminds me of a great section in Richard Foster's AMAZING book "Celebration of Discipline" where he describes the powerful joy he felt as he rode a bike to the home of someone he was giving it to one Christmas. Releasing our grasp on thinngs is truly liberating.

Now, as someone who's job involves giving away someone else's money how much joy should I be getting??