Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

One of the questions that I’m frequently asked when people hear about the work of Shiselweni Home-Based Care in Swaziland, is: “What’s the secret of your success?” Although the question might be flattering, my standard answer is: “I really don’t know.” (And this is not false humility!) God has been extremely gracious towards us and this, more than anything else, has been the major key to success. But then I do know that we also did certain things “right” which contributed towards our success. Through a number of – mostly negative – experiences in my life and more especially in church ministry, I decided many years ago that I’m not going to follow the leadership hierarchy approach in my ministry (or, in more Biblical terms, the shepherd / flock model) where everything that needs to be done in church has to be channeled up the hierarchy to the top in order to get approval and then channeled down again. In church the result of this approach is usually that the pastor is totally overworked as he / she tries to control everything happening down the line. I opted for the “body of Christ” model where I consider each church member to have certain gifts which they can and should use in service of Christ. And regardless what the gift is, if it is important to God, it is important to the church. This, I think, is the only way in which church members can fully function as a team. This does not make the role of the leader redundant. There are times when tough decisions need to be made and there are times when someone has to take responsibility when the buck can no longer be passed, but within a team approach this happens much less often than within the strictly hierarchal model.
The truth of this was further confirmed when I did some training on personality testing many years ago and realized that most business companies would probably be able to function far more productively if every employee was encouraged to use their strong personality traits (spiritual gifts and talents in the church) as part of a team, rather than one person making all or most of the decisions while the employees sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
When a friend recently advised me to read Patrick Lencioni’sThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team” I had mixed feelings about it. (Raise your hand if you enjoy hearing how and where you are dysfunctional!) But I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I love his writing style. The book is written in the format of a fable, taking a real-life situation which is all too commonly experienced in the corporate world (as well as in the church), and applying certain principles in the fable to better help the reader to understand where things could be improved and what the best method would be to do so.
Lencioni goes out from the premise that there are basically five things which can cause a team to become dysfunctional, (with the actual problem causing the dysfunction in brackets):
  1. Absence of Trust (Invulnerability)
  2. Fear of Conflict (Artificial Harmony)
  3. Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity)
  4. Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards)
  5. Inattention to Results (Status and Ego)
Through the fable, the reader gets the opportunity to fully understand how and why the problem leads to the specific dysfunction and obviously methods are explained and demonstrated through the fable on how these dysfunctions can be addressed – even to the point of having to fire someone who, although that person might be an excellent employee, does not serve the interests of the team any longer. The book ends with a more formal discussion on different methods that can be used to improve on the team’s productivity.
This is a book I can recommend to anyone working with teams and I would especially want to recommend it to any church leader, as many churches still fail to understand how to make teams work.
As I finished the book, I mentally evaluated Shiselweni Home-Based Care. After more than four years as project manager of this team, I still have to find a more dedicated and loyal team of volunteers to work with. Honestly! The problems we have are mostly minor. Through the grace of God, more than through my own wisdom, the team is functioning well. But as I thought about what Lencioni had written, I could see potential cracks. For one: Within the Swazi tradition, conflict is usually avoided. But gossip is not avoided! And gossip leads to a lack of trust. As I plan to start using this book with our twenty two coordinators, we will have to plan for a session on conflict management – and the only way to do this will be to teach and allow them to speak openly about frustrations they may experience with each other. But I’m excited to take this group of dedicated people up to an even higher level of productivity by focusing on still greater teamwork.
A great book that I absolutely enjoyed reading with great potential to make a bad team function properly and to make a good team function even better. Highly recommended!
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Unity | 2 Comments

Could the local church be the hope of the world?

Bill Hybels, pastor at Willowcreek, has a saying: The local church is the hope of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Worldwide it seems as if the local church is becoming smaller and playing a less prominent role. Many people – committed Christians – have left the church, either for nothing or for a small group. These are people who have given up hope for the local church (although many still haven’t given up hope for God.)
Frankly, we (that is, our family) are hyper-critical about the local church. We experience extreme arrogance, a lack of leadership, a total lack of commitment towards those outside the church, an unwillingness to change effectively and a whole range of other issues. I’m not referring to a particular church, but rather to a whole range of churches which I see around us. I have a dear friend who is pastor in a very small local church in the town where we live. This man has vision and dreams which you rarely observe in any pastor. But his congregation doesn’t support him. He’s on his way out – going to retire and live somewhere where he won’t need to worry about things like this anymore. And the church he is leaving behind is going to become even smaller than it already is!
Most local churches are fast declining in numbers. This is often blamed on the changing environment in which we live, the post-modern outlook on life, the old-fashioned way of worship which exist in many churches, the judgmental attitude of many Christians, and the list could go on. But I’m still not convinced that these are the real reasons why people leave the church. I’ve seen a number of people in our town who left very modern-style churches to join the Anglicans (old-fashioned with a strict liturgy). I’ve been in a Presbyterian church in Rotterdam which seem to have nothing flashy in terms of worship teams, sound systems and lights, but this church is growing, in spite of most churches in Europe declining in numbers. I believe a lot has to do with people finding that they are making a difference by being part of the church.
When people step into a relationship with Christ for the first time, they need the church to bring change into their own lives, but in my opinion, as they grow in their relationship with God, their needs (should) change, so that they can become a blessing for others. I don’t often have the chance to attend church as spectator. On most Sundays I have two and sometimes three services where I have to preach. But a few weeks ago I attended church with my family and when I left the church I was overwhelmed with the feeling of: If I have to do this every Sunday and this is all that church is about, I’ll die! And this, I believe, is the reason why churches are dying: because people cannot get the impression that it makes any difference whatsoever whether they are part of the local church or not.
Coming back to what bill Hybels said: The local church can only become the hope of the world if it gets involved in the community and the people where it is situated. People need to experience that the church is offering something that they cannot find elsewhere. Probably the church will not be able to compete in terms of financial resources when real disasters strike, such as 9/11, Katrina or with a pandemic such as AIDS. But I am sure that there are hundreds of survivors of 9/11 or families who had survived Katrina who would be able to tell stories, not of what the government had done for them, but of what churches had done for them. When I was in Chicago last year, I stayed over with a family that had just returned from New Orleans where they had helped people to rebuild their houses. I cannot for one moment think that those people, whether they are Christians or not, will see the church as being irrelevant. In Southern Africa, where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, governments of all countries are giving out billions of dollars to help control the spreading of the disease and to ensure that people are tested and will receive medication. But the real stories of hope come when people tell how the church has reached out to them. There are wonderful stories of how the church brought hope into people’s lives. And it is when I see this happening, that I know that the time of the church is not over yet. The time for ineffective churches may be over, but the world will always need hope. And nobody can bring more hope than the local church which has, itself, experienced hope through God’s love.

Saturday, August 22, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Indigenous church, Leadership, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Theology, Vision | 7 Comments

Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson: Comeback Churches

I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:

  1. The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
  2. That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:

2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year

I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:

  • Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
  • Renewed attitude for servanthood
  • More strategic prayer effort

The two other factors that followed in line were:

  • Setting goals
  • Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation

Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:

  • Growing deeply in love with Jesus
  • Growing deeply in love with the community
  • Growing deeply in love with the lost
  • Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
  • Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences

Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.

  • Love Jesus
  • Love the community
  • Love the lost

Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:

  • Love Jesus
  • Tolerate the community
  • Condemn the lost

This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.

Monday, June 22, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Jim Collins, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Vision, Worship | Leave a comment

And what if revival comes?

A number of years ago, one of our dear friends, living in the same town where we stay, made a remark which more or less said the following: “I’m praying that God will bring revival to this town and that at least 2000 people will come to repentance.” To which I replied (to her shock): “I’m going to start praying that it will not happen.” After she recovered from the shock of hearing blasphemy from the mouth of a pastor, I explained to her why I said this. At that time we were just not ready to receive 2000 new believers into any (or all) of the churches in the town. The new believers would be neglected. They would probably starve (spiritually) and eventually many of them will leave the church and return to their old lives.

Even now, when I do evangelism training in churches, I tell the people that they must not even start with an evangelism program, unless if they have everything in place to receive and support the new believers. This is almost like preparing the unborn baby’s room in anticipation for the birth that will take place.

During this past week I realised once again how unprepared most churches are for new believers. And this time it was my own congregation in Swaziland that I had to admit is still not ready for any form of revival. Since we started with our AIDS Home-Based Caring ministry, I believed that people will be affected by the caring attitude coming from the church. Our aim was not to attract new members for our own church, but we did hope that people in the communities where we work will start realising that God actually loves them. From time to time individuals did decide to join our church.

And then, in 2007, I received an invitation from one of Swaziland’s Members of Parliament in an area known as Lavumisa, to start conducting church services in his area. He opened his home to us, invited people to come and things started happening. I myself went there on various Sundays and when Tim Deller was still in Swaziland, he also went there regularly. He mentioned this a few times in his own blog, and I also blogged about it, amongst others in Starting a new church at Lavumisa.

There is, however, one big problem about conducting services at this place, and this is the distance which I have to travel to get there. It is almost 160 km (100 miles) from my home, meaning that, to go there, implies a round trip of more than 300 km. But then I also have other places which I need to visit on Sundays and furthermore I’m also invited at times to preach in other churches. From the start I realised that it would not be possible for me personally to take responsibility for this area. After the people indicated that they wanted our church to continue working in the area, I took the matter to the church council and asked them to discuss ways of helping these people. I sensed a reluctance amongst some of the church council members, but they eventually agreed that they would arrange that people in the vicinity of Lavumisa would help with church services. Unfortunately, it seems as if they did send people there a few times and then stopped going.

Last month we trained a group of caregivers in an area known as Qomintaba, which is about 20 km (12 miles) from one of our existing churches at Matsanjeni. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. On Wednesday I heard that the headman of the area had come to repentance. We didn’t speak to him about Christ. But he was so touched by what he saw the church doing, that he decided that he wanted to accept this Christ we are preaching and now he, and a large number of the caregivers, want to join our church. I know that most people will say “Halleluiah” when they hear this, but this is becoming a logistical nightmare. Once again, we don’t have people in that area that can take responsibility to do the work. But then the church members at Matsanjeni made their own plan. They would drive down to Qomintaba on a Sunday morning, help them with a church service at 9, then drive back to Matsanjeni to have another service at 11.

And then, on Wednesday, I had a long discussion with one of our church elders, and found that he was actually irritated by this. His first remark was that I’m putting him under stress because he feels that it is his responsibility to care for these people. In fact, he told me that we should just forget about them. (Wow! I can now understand how Peter felt when he returned to Jerusalem after Cornelius had accepted Christ in Acts 10.) I could understand his point of view. But I also realised that he was still not ready for God to do big things in the church. He was still feeling that everything is his responsibility. Eventually I (hopefully) convinced him that not I nor anyone else was expecting him to conduct services at Qomintaba on a regular basis. I would love to visit them in the near future. I would love him to visit them as well. But we need to respect the church at Matsanjeni who have taken this responsibility upon their own shoulders, encourage them, supply them with the basic needs and then allow them to do this work. This, I think, is probably fairly close to the New Testament model of the church.

But I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in most churches, my own included, if a real revival starts taking place.

Friday, June 12, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Disappointments, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 1 Comment

Speaking out against injustice

Our second son is a student in computer engineering. He came to visit during the past weekend. He also serves on the church council (and a few other committees) at the church where he worships. He shared something with me which made me angry and at the same time immensely proud of him.
The congregation where he worships has a great number of students attending and is considered to be something of a model church. A short while ago an orphanage, consisting of a number of smaller buildings, had a fire and one of the buildings which houses about twelve children was destroyed, fortunately without loss of life, as it seems that the house was not being used at the time. However, all the mattresses were lost.
The orphanage then approached the church and asked if they could assist them in getting new mattresses (or sponges, as we know them.) Now, we’re speaking probably of around R2000 ($250) for new sponges – not even an issue for a church of their size. Yet, as my son told me, the discussion went on for a long time and eventually it was approved that the church would donate their old sponges to the orphanage. At this point my son stood up and asked them if they could really do this with a clear conscience. The fact is, the church’s sponges were not being used, not because it wasn’t needed, but because they were so old and totally ruined, that nobody WANTS to use them anymore. And this scrap was going to be donated to an orphanage while they have more than enough money to give them twelve new mattresses.
I still don’t think that the church will buy new sponges. But I was so proud of my son standing up and speaking out against a decision that is totally wrong and unchristian (this before people twice his age or even older.)
To speak out against any form of injustice is not easy. Most of us (and I myself have done it more often than I want to admit) prefer to keep quiet when we have the choice to stand up against a group of people choosing for injustice. And then sometimes someone will stand up and become the conscience of the group to indicate to them that their decision cannot be justified in the eyes of God. These people will seldom be popular amongst humans. But then, God never called us to be popular. He called us to be witnesses of His love and his care and to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak.

Monday, June 8, 2009 Posted by | Church, Leadership, Social issues, Theology | 6 Comments

Are church leaders leading their members towards mission involvement?

Rick Meigs posted a blog almost three months ago, titled: Are We Delusional? I pinned the post, meaning to respond to it at some stage. The point he’s trying to make in the post is that many church leaders will theorize about mission and about the importance of mission, but will never set the example to their church members on what it means to get involved in mission. No wonder that church members do not get involved in mission: they’re only following the example set for them by their leaders.
Something which I’ve heard quite a lot over the past few weeks and also during the past WENSA mission conference I attended, is the words: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When it comes to mission, I’ve seen too many church leaders not willing to lead in this regard, nor are they willing to follow, nor are they willing to get out of the way that others can do what they believe God wants them to do.
Last year, when we were awarded the runner-up position for the Courageous Leadership Award for our involvement in HIV and AIDS in Swaziland, one of the other finalists stood up at the awards ceremony at Willow Creek and told how his own congregation had been waiting for him, either to take leadership or to get out of the way so that they could do something. Fortunately, he made the choice to lead, not only his own congregation, but eventually a large part of his city, to get involved in a town in Lesotho. You can read a summary of their amazing story here.
Everybody in church seem to want to be leaders. I saw it once again during this past conference when the large group had to break up into four smaller discussion groups, speaking about youth, women, community involvement and leadership. I would guess that at least two thirds of the attendees went to the discussion on leadership. Obviously we need better leaders in the church. But true leadership (in the church at least) is not something that is taught from the pulpit. It is something which is demonstrated in such a way that church members will want to follow. And where this happens with passion and with honesty, nothing can stop the army of church members signing up to follow their leader in making God’s Kingdom become visible on earth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

James Autry: the Servant Leader

Some leaders are born while others are developed. And there are thousands of books available to teach people how to become better leaders. I’ve read many of them. Some are good. Some are less helpful. But James Autry’s book, The Servant Leader, is, as far as I am concerned, a winner. I am of the opinion that every leader, be it in the corporate world or in the church, should read this book. It’s not written from a Christian perspective. In fact, the author never mentions anything about his own religious beliefs, but what amazed me was to find how this book brings into practice the principles of leadership as taught to us in the Bible.
I myself have often spoken about the necessity of servant leadership, especially in the church but also in the corporate world where Christians often fill leadership positions. In fact, I published a post on my blog on 14 April last year, with this exact heading: “Servant Leadership” and on another occasion I tried to explain something of how we try and put servant leadership into practice in Swaziland in my post with the title: “Washing each other’s feet”. Each time we train a new group of home-based caregivers, I refer to the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and when he said, in Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What makes this book by James Autry authentic, is that he himself applied these principles in real-life situations in various leadership positions that he filled and he also coached others to apply the same principles, with good results. And in most other books about leadership, the authors only write about successes, while Autry also writes about the problems which may occur – such as layoffs, legal battles, personal problems in the lives of employees and their family members, and many more. As I read this, I realised that he was echoing many principles which I try to apply (with varying success) in our ministry in Swaziland. Working with volunteers make it both easier and more difficult for a leader. It is easier in the sense that the people who are doing the work actually want to be there. They’re not doing anything because they are forced to do so through some contract. But it is also more difficult because people can leave at any time, without fearing that they will lose their income (because there ís no income).
I’ve had to make some serious decisions about my personal leadership style and I have chosen for the servant model, believing that this is the closest to the model that Jesus demonstrated. And I believe that we are reaping the fruit because of this decision.
Servant leadership is scarce amongst church leaders. And for this reason I want to recommend that every church leader read this book. If it doesn’t change your life, hopefully it will at least get you thinking about your leadership style.

Monday, March 2, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Church, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment