A Book that Changed My Life

A Book Really Changed Your Life?4548845462_c065b00a74_o

Some might say the title exhibits hyperbole. Perhaps, but I’m not completely convinced. I don’t name this post lightly. Let me share why I say a book changed my life.

Along with several other churches, my church was participating in a transformational process sponsored by our conference. One of the requirements, was a peer mentoring group, meeting for eighteen months, for the pastors. We were around month ten and the book assigned was The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Peter Lencioni. As I read the book, something within me ‘clicked’ and my life, and leadership, have never been the same.

A Short Summary

I am not reviewing the book in this post, although, I highly recommend you get a copy. In summary, Lencioni maintains that the five dysfunctions are 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. The five dysfunctions leads to effective teams. In order for teams to be effective, each dysfunction must be addressed.

It would be nice to simply fix the fifth dysfunction “inattention to results”. The thought being, “If we fix our inattention to results, then we will be attentive to results and all will be well.” However, you can’t fix the fifth dysfunction unless you work through the dysfunction before it, “avoidance of accountability.” You can’t work through the fourth dysfunction, unless you work through the third, and so on, and so on.

Each dysfunction rest atop of the one before much like a pyramid with absence of trust at the bottom and inattention to results at the top. You need to move down the pyramid until you reach a level that isn’t a dysfunction for your team and then start from there. The tendency is to find the problem such as inattention to detail, and try to fix that dysfunction without addressing the dysfunctions that contribute to it.

Healthy Organization (A Church is an Organization…right?)

That very short summary doesn’t do the book justice at all. However, while Lencioni’s discussion on the dysfunctions was very helpful, I had a different epiphany. I realized if all the dysfunctions were addressed and dealt with, the team would be healthy. If all the teams were healthy, then the organization would be healthy.

I saw how this could apply to my congregation. In my desire to be the best pastor I could be and try to help the church be the best church it could be, I had completely neglected any idea of organizational health. How could the church I serve be what God desired, if the teams were dysfunctional? That question became a focus of prayer. I still wanted to be an effective pastor, but also saw my role as a leader of organizational health. I imaged that God wanted my church to be healthy, but to be honest, churches are not always healthy. If there were models and techniques that could help businesses to be healthy, perhaps these same models and techniques could help churches as well. After all, both churches and businesses have people in common.

Healthy Churches

I maintain that healthy churches are better equipped to fulfill the mission of God. Prayer, theology, and doctrine are all important components, but a church that has all those right, but is filled with dysfunctional teams and committees will be less effective and fruitful than a church operating from organizational health. Transformational Leadership helps pastors lead churches to healthy places for the glory of God.

A Breathing Lesson: Breathing in the Spirit of God; Breathing out in service to the world

This statement brings together the main teachings of the spiritual masters. For them the inner life’s purpose was to empower the outer life. We breathe in God’s Spirit so we can breathe out in service to the world. Their life was not simply about silence and solitude, but also about service.For too long we have disconnected focus on the inner life from focus on social transformation. That is why we have Christians who might know the bible and pray extremely well, but never reach out to a neighbor in need. It is also why we have social agencies who work for the cause of Christ, but leave Christ out of much of their work. To follow Christ we must have both elements in our lives.

Experimental Ministry

Test TubesAlan Roxburgh discusses Missional Imagination in his book “Introduction to the Missional Church.” In discussing Saul (later Paul) and his transformation he writes,

“Information and definitions were not the issue; what Saul needed was a radical transformation of his imagination-of the way in which he saw the world.”

So Roxburgh basically defines imagination as “how one sees the world.” One might argue that “how one sees the world” is an adequate description of one’s culture or at least one’s worldview. In his book, he calls for individuals to be transformed so they might see the world and themselves through a missional lens. This shift to a missional worldview is ultimately what I desire for those whom I pastor.

The problem is, making shifts in culture and worldview is easier talked about than accomplished. Andy Crouch address this in his book  Culture Making. He says it is much easier analyzing the culture than actually changing it. In discussing why it is difficult to change a culture (or perhaps worldview), he has a very perceptive quote:

The language of worldview tends to imply, to paraphrase the Catholic writer Richard Rohr, that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking.

It seems that I’ve been taught that if people can think in new ways, it means there will be changes in their worldview. However, that might not be the case. What if, the culture has more affect on my thinking than my thinking has on the culture? What are the implications for a church that has been living in a certain culture for decades? I’m not sure we are going to “think” our way out of it.

What Roxburgh calls for (and Crouch may too…I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book) is for experiments in ministry. If new ways of acting cause changes in the accepted culture, then the best thing we can do to change the culture, is to introduce new desired behaviors.

Perhaps this is why some translate Matthew 28:19 as “Therefore in your going make disciples…”

Light to my Feet, or Weight Around my Neck

  In Psalm 119, the writer shares his love of God’s word. He wants to learn it, be guided by it and meditate on it day and night. He views it as a light, and a comfort and in God’s word he places his trust. I have not always resonated with Psalm 119. Instead, I have found reading and studying the scripture…well…hard, difficult, and at times frustrating. I have used it as a sword against those who disagree, and have had the displeasure of having it used as a dagger against me. I have spent hours trying to understand it and at times have found myself shaking my head because it didn’t always make sense to me.

Someone posted a comment asking me to write a posting about Bible study. After thinking about it, I believe the best approach is to share some general principles more than a some kind of ‘how to.’

I’ve found that the root of much of my frustration with scripture was my approached. Our educational system teaches us that information is meant to be mastered. We are given textbooks and told to read, memorize, understand and then tested on how well we can regurgitate the information. So we grow up reading fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, pamphlets, brochures, and other material the same way. Our goal is to understand, manage and master it.

I’ve approached the Bible much in the same way. I viewed it as information that I needed to digest and understand. There were facts, figures, principles and rules to know and dissimilate. I felt that I needed to master this book more than any other because this book is important. So I would attend bible studies, buy commentaries, listen to various discussions and lectures all so I would be able to answer any question about this book.

There is nothing with this method. It is important to know what is contained in the pages of scripture. Paul tells us to do our best so we will be able to “rightly” explain the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15 NRSV). So studying scripture is something we are called to do.

There is another way to approach scripture though; formatively. When we approach the scripture this way, we are not trying to master the material. Rather, we are allowing the material to master us. There is a big difference. One can study scripture informationally and leave unchanged. One cannot read the scriptures formatively and leave unchanged. To read scripture formatively is to be changed. It is to be mastered.

How does one make the shift from informational reading to formative reading? Well, for one thing we slow down. Instead of trying to cover a chapter, or book, we are satisfied with a verse, or perhaps even a word. How much we study, or how much we read is no longer our concern. Our concern is that we ‘hear’ God through our reading and having our lives changed.

We begin by placing ourselves before God and reading a small portion of scripture. This can be a paragraph, passage, or a few verses. Some stop when something ‘jumps out at them.’ It is at that point that we meditate, wonder and pray over the scripture.

I would suggest doing a search for Lectio Divina which is an ancient practice of reading scripture. Lectio Divina slows us down and help us to listen more fully to God. Many who have started practicing Lectio have discovered how powerful scripture can be. They come away not with some tidbit of trivia, but with an invitation to more fully follow God.

Both informational and formational approaches are important. We need times when we study, gaining information and understanding. We also need those times of formation when we allow God, through His Word, to master and transform us. Yet, I believe that we have focused so much on informational reading that we could probably spend a greater amount of time in formational practices. There are countless bible studies, but is the result more love? We have the information, more information than we ever have, but do we care for our neighbors more? Our goal, after all, is to love God and others. If our current focus on bible studies move us toward that goal wonderful. I, for one, believe we need more transformation of the heart (which formational practices bring).

Hope for Transformation

100_3618 It is not only a deliverance from doubts and fears, but from sin; from all inward as well as outward sin; from evil desires and evil tempers, as well as from evil words and works. Yea, and it is not only a negative blessing, a deliverance from all evil dispositions implied in that expression, “I will circumcise thy heart;” but a positive one likewise; even the planting all good dispositions in their place; clearly implied in that other expression, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul.” – John Wesley, Sermon 110, “On the Discoveries of Faith.”

I love when Wesley writes things like this. It gives me hope.

I’ve noticed that when Wesley discusses regeneration or the new birth he says things like he did here. Wesley believed that justification wasn’t just a matter of outward appearance, but there was  a real literal change in one’s life. Here he says there is a deliverance from sin, inward as well as outward sin. He even goes as far to say that this deliverance even transforms our tempers. Not only is one delivered, but God plants good dispositions in their place!

I’ve been a United Methodist for 40 years (Since there was a UMC). I’ve been a pastor for about 20 years. I’ve graduated seminary, have been to numerous annual conferences, conference and district meetings and have spent countless hours with UM clergy and laity. However, if we agree with Wesley and believe that God really does what Wesley says God does, I don’t see reflected in our churches, conferences, pastors or laity.

I’ve heard people explain why all kinds of ‘ungodly’ things happen in our churches. I’ve heard people talk a lot about God’s grace, love, forgiveness and justification. Yet, I haven’t heard many people preach on (myself included) or talk about this belief of Wesley’s that ‘real’ Christianity means a transformation of our tempers and dispositions. Instead it seems like this point is ignored. The tendency is to assume, here on earth, we will have sin, it will be a battle, and we will loose…that’s why Jesus died after all.

I’m not sure we should move too quickly away from what Wesley says though. Maybe it would be good to read what he says about the new birth and literal transformation of dispositions and tempers. Because if God really does this in the new birth…wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t it be awesome? To have our dispositions transformed and changed from unholy to holy would be a true miracle. To be able to love God and love others, not because I’m trying to live out some commitment or ideal, but because God has changed me in a way that loving Him and others flows from new dispositions and tempers is a truly hopeful thought.

I’m convinced that Wesley believed in real transformation of individuals. A transformation so great, that they were literally new people with new tempers and dispositions able to really love God and others. I wonder if those in the UMC still believe this. To be honest…I’m beginning to believe and it gives me hope.