A Returned Gaze

“So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’                             for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.‘”                                                                              Hagar in response to God’s care for her (Genesis 16:3)

God is Always Gazing Upon Us
When we contemplate God, that is to say gaze upon God, we are gazing upon the one who is always gazing upon us. When we ponder God, he is already pondering us. He contemplates us perpetually.

Paul exhorts us to “fix our mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Colossians 3:1-4).”  When we do so, we are  reminded that his mind is already fixed upon us.

He is always the initiator, we are always the responder.

Its All About the Relationship
There is much todo about contemplative spirituality in the Evangelical world today. At times I find I get lost in all these practices I am encouraged to be about: lectio divina, silence, solitude,  contemplative prayer, etc.  Those are good practices certainly. I engage in many of them.

Yet, I am reminded that in the end it is not about the practice but about the relationship. These practices are a means to an end. They facilitate my being with God, open and receptive towards him.

A Resource
If you struggle with this whole contemplative topic, or if you would like a more solid biblical Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.41.46 PMorientation, then I strongly encourage you to purchase and download this article from The Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care. The article is $5 and can be downloaded as a pdf. The entire issue is worth the $15.  JSFSC is a pricey journal ($30/year) but I have benefited immensely from my subscription over the years.  But I digress…

Withholding Eye Contact
Witholding eye contact from someone can be a deliberate means of hurting another. It is generally a passive-aggressive way of relating. However, sometimes we are simply not aware that our attention is so adamatly desired.

Of course, God needs nothing from us. He is sufficient in himself. Yet, he opens himself up to us in relationship and invites us ever deeper in.

Imagine God always gazing upon us, eager for his gaze to be received and returned.

How are you responding to God’s gazing upon?

How are you returning his gaze?

What have your found helpful to facilitate your gazing upon God in your journey with him? Please share.

Posted in Personal Vitality, Resources, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wheaton College Resiliency Survey

Below is a copy of the Facebook entry for the Wheaton College Resiliency study that Dr. Pam Edwards posted.

Hope you’ll contribute. Please share it around, it would be great to have solid data on his study.  Thanks SS

Wheaton College is conducting a study on resilience of Cross-Cultural Workers. How does working overseas impact your mental and physical health? This study is open to all cross-cultural workers over age 18 and will take 30-40 minutes to complete. If you participate, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of twenty-five $100 gift cards!

From the data we collect, we hope to create the largest database of Cross-Cultural Worker information that has ever been gathered.

Please check out this website to learn more and take our survey:

Feel free to share this with others in your organization who may be interested!

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Is Your Organization Healthy?

I have job security because, in part, there is a lack of organizational health.

That is a loud statement.

It is not an exaggeration that the majority, by a wide margin, of hurts I interface with at a personal level come at the hands of some level of organizational ill-health. You possibly experience the same.

How about your organization?

You Shape Organizational Health. Yes, You!
I am a big fan of Patrick Lencioni (you my know him from his best known title The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). His more recent book The Advantage is a culmination of many of his works. It is a brilliantly simple and essential book. Essential! Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.23.19 PM

You may feel tempted to check out because you are not an organizational leader. But wait! You are part of an organization. You can do what you can do to make your little corner of the organization healthy.

Lencioni argues that if you do that, the results will show and people will pay attention. Besides, with some simple know-how you can shepherd others through the mishmash of organizational illness.

Lencioni’s group has just developed a new website loaded with practical tools. It is called The Hub.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.22.25 PM

If you only do one thing, listen to the 60 minute webinar he gave earlier this week (April 25). Here is the link.

As you listen, take notes. Lencioni is a believer and is deep into both the business and non-profit sector of the U.S. He is expounding simple wisdom, much of it very biblical.

He has some key words for non-profits – i.e. for sending and member care organizations like yours and mine. Those words come within the first 20 or 30 minutes of this webinar. They are gold. When not headed, the results are painful – at the organizational and personal level.

He also addresses what you can do if you are not the CEO or department head in bringing change. There are many good questions addressed that listeners sent in ahead of time that are very relevant to our world.

Member Care Providers Must Offer More than Problem Identification
We must be able to do more than point out the problems. Member care providers lose credibility amongst executive leadership when all we do is talk about what is wrong and do not do some of the heavy lifting of facilitating health for the organization, not just members of the organization.

Lencioni provides straight forward ways to facilitate health, IF, we lean into them with “courage and disciple” (his words). We can help foster not only personal health, but organizational health as well.

This is a monsterous issue for the cross-cultural ministry world. I’d love to hear your thoughts on organizational health and what member care folks can do to promote it.

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Darkness and Sight

So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he (Judas) immediately went out. And it was night.” John 13:30

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdelene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark” John 20:1

In John’s narrative, between John 13:30, when Judas departed to betray Jesus, and John 20:1 on what we now call Easter morning, it had been a long dark night.

Of course, the sun rose on Friday morning after Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and it rose again on Saturday morning. But spiritually speaking, it was as dark as dark could be. It was a long night.

John is a brilliant writer, nothing in his gospel is of insignificance. Note for example that the Bread of Life was offering Life to Judas, but Judas only partook of a “small morsel of bread and he immediately went out.” Judas did not partake fully of Jesus and then left his company. John’s observations are astute.

For John, Maundy Thursday night to Easter morning was one long night. It was a very dark time.

Our Darkness

There are periods in our life when life is dark. The sun rises, but it’s light does not seem to penetrate our night. St. John of the Cross’ description of “the dark night of the soul” is an apt description. Whether you agree theologically with St. John of the Cross or not, we all go through dark times in life.

Some of us find ourselves living in dark environs. Spiritual forces of darkness have existed uncontested for extensive periods of time. Small lights begin to pierce that darkness as a church gathers, yet the darkness will push back.

What darkness do you find yourself in? Does your night have a name?

Night Vision

John does not mention any light in the remainder of chapter 20. But the words “saw” and “seen” is circled 13 times in my ESV Bible. It may have been dark, but a new sight is being IMG_3715granted to those who believe.

Jesus and Thomas have their famous post-resurrection interaction. Jesus makes this most encouraging comment: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29 ESV).”

Thomas would not believe until he saw Jesus for himself. However, John is writing his gospel narrative decades later to people who have not had that privileged opportunity to physically see the resurrected Jesus. So John makes it clear that it is possible to believe without a physical sighting of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus pronounces a special blessing on those of us who have yet to seen him yet believe.

In your night, do you believe him? Faith grants us a sight that no darkness can blind.

Peter in his first letter, writing to a deeply persecuted church, recalled Jesus’ words when he wrote:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV).”

Job, thousands of years before there was the dark night of our Savior’s death made this bold faith statement:

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27 NIV).”

Your Sight in Darkness

May God grant you eyes in the darkness of any spiritual night you find yourself in.

May you in his grace partake of the Bread of Life and not merely a small morsel.

May he grant you a growing yearning to see him one day.

Jesus conquered death, he can conquer anything you are facing today. He is Risen.

Posted in Shepherding Well | 1 Comment

Calling, Purpose and Ministry Fit for Retention

Improper Ministry Fit can be a Death Sentence to Workers
One of the core elements of resiliency is a sense of purpose.

This is fulfilled by being graced with responsibilities and commensurate authority to fulfill those responsibilities that match ones spiritual gifts, skills, personality and sense of what God has asked one to gives one’s life to as closely as is possible.

That’s a long sentence. Let’s break it down.

Responsibilities and Authority
If someone is given a job, then let them do the job. That means make decisions, spend money and manage details without having to ask for permission constantly. Of course, there are organizational restrictions such as values, missional objectives, budgets, procedures, protocol and policies. Get staff up to speed on all that, provide supervision and feedback, but then set them loose to go do the job. Sure they’ll make mistakes. That is how we all learn and grow.

Responsibilities that Match Gifting, Skills and Personality 
Too often organizations have a bunch of proverbial round holes to fill and square pegs are squashed into them so the holes are filled.

The classic scenario is field leadership. All of us have seen again and again some poor person made the field leader simply because they have tenure. Whether they are gifted as a leader, have leadership skills and the right personality to navigate the complexities of leadership don’t seem to be considered. The hole has to be plugged, so plug it. I cannot count the number of field leaders I have spoken to over the years who have expressed exasperation at being put in that role. This is a set up for failure.

The objective is to place people in roles that they are gifted, trained and passionate about. That sense of purpose fulfillment will carry folks through a great deal of struggles along the way.

That Vague Thing of Calling
Calling is that sense of what God has clearly told you, with other’s affirmation and guidance, to give your life to. Its that work that if you do not do, you will feel like you are not living life as you should. Of necessity you have to do it. It may be for a stage of life, but it is real in that time period.  If we do not do what God has asked us to give our lives to, the inner dissonance will take its toll.

Not a Perfect World, But…
Yes, it is easy to speak in terms of ideals. There are times we all have to do some work that is outside our sweet spot. However, that cannot go on for long. It must be stop gap at best or the data shows people will seek a better fit elsewhere. Like leave the field….


What if You Feel Misfit?
It behooves us to be excellent students of ourselves. Take those assessments even if you don’t like them. StrengthFinders is great place to start. A trained StrengthFinders coach can be a coup of insight into where you will be most fruitful.

Can you articulate clearly what God has asked you to do? Write it down. Pray over it. Let it sit for a while. Come back to it and if it burns in you, then who can you talk to about that?

What other suggestions for role fit do you have?

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Relationships Essential to Resiliency

A dear friend, with whom I graduated college, and her husband are some of the most amazing Christ-winners in the hard, spiritual soil called Japan that I know.

She did her doctoral dissertation on what the thematic elements are that are make or break for people to last long-term in Japan or attrit after a few years.  One of her findings was that we need connection with other people who are in the same predicament we find ourselves in.

Its the whole “we are in the same boat together” idea.

Community Essential to Resiliency
The early years of cross-cultural work bring similar predicaments the world over: language proficiency, enculturalization, learning to live amongst spiritual oppression, ministry discovery and placement. Many places add the dynamics of security concerns.

What my friend found is that if the workers who are in this early stage of acclimating to the field find each other and stick together, they have a higher chance of thriving.

We need others to laugh and cry with who “get” our life.

Relational or Mentoring Constellation
Dr. Robert Clinton came up with the concept (I believe) of a “Mentoring Constellation.” The idea is we need a constellation of relationships in our lives.

The attached .pdf can be downloaded and used for you to ponder who you have in your life.

Mentoring Constellation worksheet

Here is an explanation of each “category” of relationships:

Mentors – we all need people who pour into our lives. These relationships can be formal such as a professor, counselor or spiritual director, or less formal such as an older person you spend time with.

Peers Inside Our Organization – these are colleagues in our organization. As peers we journey together toward missional objectives as well as tending to one another.

Peers Outside Our Organization – these are peers who are not part of our immediate context. These relations are important because they bring fresh objectivity into our world. And they can be a safe place to appropriately process dynamics in our present circumstances.

My wife and I are part of a small circle of three couples who talk regularly by video call. We live in different countries. We are a safe place to openly share life and hear one another’s perspective.  We also have a small circle of peers who live in our area. I cannot imagine not having these and other safe places to talk.

Mentorees – these are people we make ourself available to. A key element of finishing well is that we develop others, not as the local “guru,” but as available, experienced journey mates.

Design and Pray for Your Community toward Resiliency
Who do you have in each of these areas of your life? Where can you find them? Others need you too, so pursue others to be available for them.

Be relentless in pursuing these relations as we all need them to be resilient and healthy in this journey. Ask God to provide key, mutually beneficial relationships in your life.

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Why You Need a Clear Job Description

Four Essentials for a Staff Person’s Success
There are four essential elements for a staff person’s success:

  • A clearly defined role (job description)
  • Regular feedback (annual review)
  • Missional clarity (what the individual or team is to be about)
  • Executive empowerment (delegated authority to fulfill one’s role)

Have you received all four of these?

Let’s look at just one area, the job description.

What’s in a Job Description?
A job description provides a very clear set of expectations.Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 3.46.50 PM

So many global workers I engage have ill defined roles. Further, those roles are usually multiple. In the end the person is frustrated (as well as exhausted) as none of the roles are fulfilled well.

Ministry misfit is too common a dynamic in cross-cultural work. This reality is but one cause of attrition.

A clearly defined role and responsibility is an essential element for healthy workers and effective work. To not take the time to develop accurate roles can lead to loss of personnel at worst and ineffective work in the least. This is avoidable attrition.

Potential Impact of Ill-Defined Roles
Directionless.  We all need clear direction. Identifying expectations can be clearer direction.  A job description is the first step toward addressing these areas.

Misfit. Too many workers are placed in  roles that they are not gifted or skilled for. A wiser course is to explore their gifts, skills, personality, and sense of dreams and calling with them. The solution could be as easy as a merely a lateral move to a better fit for them. It is better to not fill a role and have a worker placed in an area of effectiveness than cram that person in the wrong role. Otherwise, the job might not be done well and you could lose the worker in the long haul.

Overload. Way too many of us carry multiple roles that present an unrealistic level of work. Exhaustion and ineffectiveness can be the result. We want to make sure the expectations are realistic. Overreach is not effectiveness.

What Can You Do?
If you are interacting with a worker who expresses lack of direction, feeling misfit for the role, or otherwise overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work before them, you can ask them about a clearly defined job description. If this is not a common practice in their role, help them write on out to be submitted to a supervisor.

How about you, shepherd?
What is your job description? Is it clearly defined? Are you given permission to focus in your areas of gifting and skill sets? Who can help you write a clear, concise, well thought out job description?

Anyone seen  brilliant member care job description they would be willing to share? We all need good models. Thanks!

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Theme #5: Lack of Permission for Personal Development and Care

(This is one of a five part series on responding to thematic issues affecting member care providers and cross-cultural worker’s health and effectiveness. You can read the intro.)

Some Assumptions
I bring into this topic an assumption. That assumption is that God’s redemptive process never ceases.

As I use the phrase “personal development and care,” I am using it as an expression of intentionally leaning into the reality of God’s ongoing redemption.

God seeks to  draw us ever deeper into his love. As we grow deeper in that communion, we become like the One we are communing with. Transformation takes place. From that transformation the possibility of greater missional fruitfulness can happen as well.

We are whole beings and seek integration. Thus, we seek to be intentional about growth emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and professionally.

With these assumptions in hand, it is imperative that we are ever responsive to God’s ongoing redemptive activity. A key way of doing that is to intentionally design ways and means that facilitate growth. That requires time, money, energy…..and that is where the rub is.

Simple Mathunnamed
My math works like this:

Spiritual growth + emotional growth + professional growth = personal development = relational maturity* (with God  and others) —> which makes for the possibility of greater missional influence.

*(Maturity is always exposed in the context of relationship. In other words, as we grow our capacity to receive and convey love increases.)

IF this is good math, then personal development is an essential ingredient of missional accomplishment. That requires time, money, focus, and permission. Permission is self-granted and it is organizationally granted.

Organizational DNA
There are too few organizations which have personal development as part of their cultural DNA.

Some essential ingredients of that DNA would be budgeting of time and money for personnel’s ongoing development.

There is a relational side to this too. Part of normal conversations would be people being asked when and how they are staying personally vibrant and maturing as well as professionally equipped.

Of course, leadership is has an essential role. Leaders can model ongoing personal development. They aren’t merely telling us to do this. They do it themselves and share stories of their own growth. This grants permission and vision for a path forward.

Taking Personal Responsibility
No matter what organizational culture I find myself in, the onus is still on me. I alone am responsible for how I steward God’s constant invitation toward himself. I can budget money and time to attend conferences and schedule personal retreat.

How Do You Grow?
God has taught me about myself. Here is some of what I need to be growing: books to learn; space and time to reflect, think and create; others to pass ideas by to make sure I am on track and receive counsel from; a monthly day of prayer; external input from learning opportunities; time to play outside….

  • How do you learn?
  • What do you need?
  • Who could mentor you?
  • How will you schedule and budget for that?

Will their be hinderance? Yes! Mom’s of little ones could wonder how this could ever happen. Living in a major urban environment can make it hard to find space and quiet. Limiting budgets can feel restrictive. But, if God is as committed to this as I am suggesting, then I believe he will provide. Ask your Father to do so.

As shepherds of others, it behooves us to always be growing and seek personal vitality. We can only lead others to where we have gone ourselves.

Posted in Living Wisely, Personal Vitality, Shepherding Well, Spiritual Vitality, The Shepherd's Health, Thinking Well | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments