Thinking Out Loud

September 25, 2018

When It’s Time To Shut Down a Ministry Venture

One of the most difficult things anyone in ministry can face is the realization that a particular ministry project simply isn’t working, or has become no longer sustainable. I’ve had to do this many times including two Christian bookstores (after 5 years and 14 years) and a church plant (after 18 months); and my wife faced this with a monthly series of worship events (after nearly 5 years) she started.

Here are three particular challenges:

We don’t have good modeling for shutting things down.

If anything, some Christian organizations have overstayed their welcome. They were intended for a season, but became an institution that grew so large and inflexible; and so many people depended on it for their livelihood that shutting down has never been an option. This could also be said for some churches.

We haven’t learned from the world’s model of mergers and acquisitions.

Many times shutting down seems the only route because we haven’t fully exhausted the possibilities of partnering with other organizations who share a similar ministry focus. Which means relinquishing both the hard and soft assets of the ministry. That in turn would mean a loss of control. It could also lead to something which looks quite different than what we original envisioned.

We fear regret for giving up.

I can honestly say this is my biggest challenge even now, years later. “What if we’d stuck it out for another year?” Or, “What were we just on the cusp of seeing happen that didn’t happen because of our lack of faith, or faithfulness?”

The writer of Ecclesiastes said that there is “a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Sometimes the challenge is knowing what time it is right now.

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February 13, 2018

The Short Term Missionary Returns

Filed under: Christianity, missions — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:29 am

FLL to PAPAt 8:46 this morning, after a layover in Fort Lauderdale, Chris, our oldest son has arrived back for a week in Haiti after an absence of three years.

In 2015, he connected with Engineering Ministries International (EMI), a ministry which comes alongside other organizations for the purpose of designing various types of facilities. His four month internship was centered mostly on designing three buildings to be erected on new land purchased by Welcome Home Children’s Centre, a charity based in Georgetown — about 45 minutes west of Toronto — which operates an orphanage near Marotte, about two hours north of Port au Prince.

This time he’s returning with a team from the charity, not EMI. He’s actively kept in touch with them, and has helped out with their website and some fundraising events. He gets to see the first of the three buildings he helped design which has been constructed in the intervening years.

I love the organic beginnings of this organization:

Camille Otum was born in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and raised in the nearby town of Cabaret. At the age of nineteen she was inspired to embark on an adventure and moved to Canada. She chose to settle in Montreal, Québec, where she had French language and cultural connections. Once married, Camille, her husband Sam and their family moved to the province of Ontario and now make their home in Georgetown.

In 2004, Camille joined a group from her church as a chaperone on a mission to Haiti with young Canadians aged 15 to 18. This was an opportunity for her to help in her home country and to offer her leadership and language skills to the project.

During the trip, Camille visited her old friends in her hometown of Cabaret. She was quite distressed by what she saw. This was not the village she had left many years ago. Now, she was witnessing homeless children begging in the streets, desperate and malnourished.

Camille returned to Canada with this image embedded in her mind and began discussions with her family and friends about the situation in her homeland and her deep desire to help. With the support of her husband, Sam Otum, and her church friends Audrey Hoekstra and Era Ferron and their husbands, Peter Hoekstra and Ezekiel Ferron, and a friend, Caroline Bailey, she shifted into ‘business’ mode. After considering options, they decided to open an orphanage and Welcome Home Children’s Centre was incorporated as a non-profit entity in Canada.

Usually, people don’t stay in touch with organizations where they’ve served in a short term mission. Chris is different. He has a real heart for this organization, plus he is able to speak both French and Haitian Creole, which gives his time there greater potential. This is his first “vacation” time since starting his career job two years ago, and he was insistent he didn’t want to just do tourism. He wanted to do something which would make his 7-8 days count.

Please join us in praying:

  • for safe flights for the team going through Niagara Falls airport, to Ft. Lauderdale, to Haiti and then for Chris as he flies back solo doing this same route (other team members are staying longer) and has to find his way from Niagara Falls, NY back to Toronto.
  • for safety, security and health for the team (5 people) on the ground in Haiti.
  • for wisdom as Chris looks at the solar panel electrical system he helped design.
  • for a fruitful time that is beneficial to the ministry organization, the children in the orphanage, and their leaders.
  • for some opportunities to interact with the children and encourage them
  • for a sense of God’s presence and leading.

Thanks.

The video below was produced 3 years ago by EMI, but gives a great overview of what Welcome Home is about.

And in case you’re wondering, here’s what he can expect in terms of weather:


Update: The original article didn’t include this, but if you’re interested, here are the links to Engineering Ministries International as well as the Calgary, Canada office he interned with. If you have skills in the field, you don’t have to do a full 4-month internship as he did. EMI is always looking for

  • surveyors
  • architects
  • engineers (often mechanical, structural, etc.)

to go on a one-week trip to a particular country and take part in a highly organized, streamlined design blitz.

 

October 14, 2017

Walking on Eggshells

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

Guest Essay by Ruth Wilkinson

I have to be very careful, sometimes. Careful who I talk about and how. What’s too private to discuss and what’s OK to share. I use initials that are randomly selected, or mean something to just me. Sometimes I forbear from using he or she, or take creative license, genderwise.

And not only when it’s about something negative. Respecting peoples’ privacy is important, not only because I don’t want to get yelled at or sued or ostracized, but because they’re people, after all, and I like them and care about them.

So this post is something I’ve given some thought to, and even as I’m writing it I’m not sure I’ll put it out there. If you’re reading it, obviously I decided to go for it. Otherwise, it’ll go into the “trying to figure out the world” file.

Our group hosted a ‘meet and greet’ in town for people interested in social and justice issues. We invited a great whack of folks who work for agencies, both government and independent, to come and tell us what they do and why.

Quite a few came, and we had about two hours of information, asking each other questions, explaining our areas of passion and concern and getting to know each other. Very cool.

A few days before the meeting, everybody on the team that planned it got an e-mail (we’re great believers in the Reply-All) from one of the newest members of the team. We’re just getting to know this couple and coming to appreciate their giftings and passions, and to find out how much they have to contribute.

So this e-mail from LA suggested that we should all pray and fast, if possible, on the day before, so we’d be open to whatever God had for us at the meeting. The idea was that maybe God wanted all of these community leaders and servants to get together in one room.

Very cool suggestion, of course. I felt a little badly that I hadn’t come up with it. I thought, after reading the e-mail, that I should have, though my job description as Figurehead is a little vague.

The response to the e-mail was universally positive and some of us said, “Count me in.”

After the meet and greet was over and a few of us were congratulating each other on how well it had gone, one person mentioned the e-mail and said wasn’t that great? How come none of the rest of us thought of it? We’d been planning the meeting for a couple of months and none of the old guard had said, hey, let’s pray.

And I’m like, yeah, really.

The other person said, “I read it and I’m all, yeah, absolutely, completely agree, but I didn’t have a folder to put it in, ya know?”

And I’m like, yeah, totally.

Not because we’d never fasted and prayed before. Not because nobody had suggested anything before.

Because the person who made the suggestion, who had exercised such spiritual vision, showed such leadership, who had reminded us all to pray and depend on God’s leading, is gay.

And for many of us out here, who have been told certain things and taught to see the world through certain lenses, receiving spiritual leadership from someone who is gay is a new thing. We don’t have a folder to put it in.

When I first met this couple, we got together for coffee to talk about what we do and how they might participate.

Around the same time, I ran into someone from a local church who’s been very encouraging and supportive of what we do and I mentioned our new team members.

That person’s response was, “I don’t have a problem with that, as long as they’re not in positions of leadership.”

I responded that we don’t really have that kind of a structure. That we don’t have an authority based org chart.

And, on the ground, we don’t. It’s very hippie-organic. We get together every couple of weeks and talk about what’s happened and what might happen and how we should respond to or proceed with ideas or suggestions or dreams. We function by consensus and it works quite well, since we’re all like-minded. Conflicts are over minor issues or semantics and either resolved quickly, or agreed upon with disagreement.

Everybody has equal opportunity to exercise their gifts, spiritual or practical (except nobody ever asks me to sing. Sigh.) and everybody has the chance to learn from each other and to teach each other out of invaluable experience where to step boldly and where the quicksand is.

For those of us who’ve grown up in and, for some, grown out of, trad evangelical church structures, the way we do things is wonderfully freeing and we don’t begin to understand why everybody doesn’t do it this way.

But it means figuring things out on the way. Like what do you do with the things that don’t fit into folders. Things you don’t have any previous definitions for. Like “gay Christian”.

Problem with chucking the folders is that you have no place to stick the labels anymore. They don’t stick to people. Because they’re, well, people.

They have hearts and hopes and they love and they belong or they don’t. Which mostly depends on how other people decide to react to them.

And all of a sudden, all of the theology and interpretation and shoulds and shouldn’ts aren’t so important and all that matters is “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Because all of a sudden, you’re wondering what it’s like to be a gay Christian, on the fringes of the church, and maybe, on the fringes of the gay community and you start to feel deeply glad to be on the fringes of the church, yourself.

Because otherwise, you might not have had the chance to get to know two very cool and lovable people.

And otherwise, who would have reminded us to pray?


©Ruth Wilkinson

June 20, 2017

Christian Television from the Other Side

Filed under: Christianity, media, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

Forty years ago, I was getting up daily at 5:30 so I could down a quick breakfast, catch a 6:00 AM Toronto bus to the subway, and by 7:00 be on the set of 100 Huntley Street, North America’s longest running daily Christian talk show, plugging in microphones and doing all the things for which an audio technician is responsible. I worked for the production company, Crossroads Christian Communications for a grand total of only five months before getting caught in the middle of a situation where a former friend, also gifted in audio, arranged for his mother to make a large donation so that he could basically steal my job. I was moved over to another area — the music department — where I would love to have stayed for a lifetime, but for the fact they already had a music director and after a couple of months of growth, the organization staged what would be the first of many job cuts.

Last week 100 Huntley Street had its 40th anniversary. In all of their various celebrations, I have never once been asked to be among the former staff invited to the party. I guess I wasn’t there long enough.

I do have a story to tell. It’s a shared story, one highlight of which is being a part of that miracle morning where the first show went to air on the Global Television Network. We all stayed overnight, but there wasn’t much I could do with a studio that wasn’t ready, given that the audio system is applied only after the set is completely dressed and much of the lighting work is done. I would say that by 5:30 AM we did not have a working studio. By 9:30 we were on the air. It was a 90-minute show back then. Today it’s 30 minutes.

My other memory is approaching the host and senior producer — a husband and wife team — and asking if an upcoming music guest could be given a block of time instead of the usual spacing out of songs at various points in the script. They agreed, and what happened when Keith Green started ministering to people on the program was unforgettable.

Today, Christian television is not in high regard in several quarters, including among the evangelicals who were responsible for its growth. The format has been exploited for profit and for ego, and there are too many people out there creating a fragmented viewership. Contemporary Christian Music gets a somewhat negative attitude from many as well. I find it interesting that the two vehicles — the two media you could say — that God used so powerfully in my life are now looked down upon by so many. 

From the other side, the inside, I can say that to the extent I knew the hearts of my co-workers, the desire to produce an excellent program each day and the desire to see the message of Jesus go out over the air was first and foremost. I know there is much skepticism about this today and I’m sure there are those simply in it for the paycheck, but at that time, the young skeleton crew and office staff with whom I worked were forging something new, something vital, something that was all the motivation anyone needed.

While a university student, my goal was to work in Christian television. An opportunity in Virginia to study at CBN University fell through because, in order to achieve accreditation, the school couldn’t accept foreign students in its first year. I looked at studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, but in this country, the feeling is that working journalists should be fluent in both official languages. After four years of college, suddenly people were probing into my high school marks in French, which were not great. That left a journalism program in British Columbia which was further than I wanted to travel at that stage of life.

And then along came 100 Huntley Street. I walked out of a set of exams right into a job doing the thing I wanted to do, but was caught in a series of circumstances — a major equipment failure on air being one — over which I had no control, but still took the blame. I didn’t know the power of arrangement back then or I would fought harder to keep my job, stood up for myself, and exposed the politics of the organization whereby a large donation by a relative ensured someone getting a job. I was young. They were inexperienced in managing a large enterprise.

However, all that said, I believe God had other plans for me and that having fulfilled my dream, however briefly, he wanted me to move on and do other things. A couple of decades later I began to see how the various pieces of the puzzle of my life were starting to fit together to form something useful, though in all the intervening years, an actual title, desk, office or salary have proved unattainable. I relate to the missionaries who serve for an entire career and then have nothing material to show for it. I often wonder what a lifetime at Huntley Street would have looked like.

I do congratulate the people at Crossroads Christian Communications. In the last few years the daily program has been rebuilt and restructured and I believe is something its former critics can actually enjoy watching. It’s the sixth longest running television program in the world of any genre, not just talk shows; and every weekday morning the production staff and on air guests walk into that studio and by 9:30 AM, the miracle I experienced 40 years ago is in many ways repeated.

 

April 27, 2017

The Courtesy of a Reply

church email etiquette

This a pet peeve of mine. Churches and Christian organizations get many, many e-mails and other types of communication every day, and while this can be overwhelming, the ones that aren’t newsletters, bulk mailings or spam represent an individual who is expecting some type of reply.

I was reminded of this again when I was housecleaning old emails. A guy had shared with me how he and his wife had tried every local church in his town, and had run out of options. So I suggested something more informal: House churches. I did some research for the area where he lived and gave him contact information, but also made some of the contacts myself. A month later, I get this:

Dear Paul,

We have never heard a word from anyone in any of the home groups that you sent your e-mail to. I guess they aren’t interested in having anyone new join their group. The fact that no one even took the time to send an e-mail was very disheartening and made us realize this probably isn’t the type of group we wanted to be associated with anyway.

I can’t imagine if Christ were on this earth that he would ignore anyone who showed an interest….maybe these groups are missing the mark.

Again Paul, thanks for your help. You were very kind and we did appreciate your efforts.

No, no, no! My efforts are useless unless they get results. This couple deserved better.

But honestly, this scene plays out tens of thousands of times per day. I can’t tell you the letters I’ve written to churches, ministry organizations, missions, etc.; letters written on behalf of myself or others; letters that nothing in them to suggest that I would be the kind of person that you would want to simply ignore. And probably there are people reading this who this has happened to as well.

We live in an interconnected world where even local church congregations have to potential to make a global impact. But if you put yourself out there online, you have to be prepared to be approached on a wide variety of issues. You also have to remember that when you ignore a letter written by a fellow-human, you are being less than what Christ intended. Being ignored hurts. Hurting people is just dumb.

Some response is better than no response.

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.

 

 

July 6, 2015

Christian Leadership is both Art and Science

The Leadership theme is a big part of the Christian portion of the internet. Podcasts and blogs by names you’d recognize garner a huge following; names such as Michael Hyatt, Rich Birch, Carey Nieuwhof, John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, Tony Morgan, Jenni Catron, Brad Lomenick and Ron Edmondson, just to name a few that I can personally recommend.

One of the challenges faced by leaders is succession plans; when to pass the torch and to whom it should be passed.

This weekend at Christianity 201, we ran this article by someone I consider a statesman among Christian leaders in Canada, Brian StillerBrian Stiller; former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It’s still very timely. It’s a theme that was echoed in an interview that I did as an aspiring Christian journalist with Brian around the same time. He spoke with me about the mavericks who founded many iconic Christian organizations in the post-World War II era, and how in the next generation, the maverick spirit was replaced by managers in maintenance mode.

This is an excerpt of a longer article in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

March 12, 2015

Engineering Ministries International: Recent Haiti Project

I mentioned a month ago that I would return to more about Engineering Ministries International. Even if a family member wasn’t intimately involved, I think if I had seen a presentation about their work I would be instantly hooked. Their work is so vital and their cooperation with other ministry organizations is so commendable.

eMi logoIf you know someone who is:

  • an engineer
  • an architect
  • a surveyor

you should get them to do some research on this organization with an eye toward possibly taking a vacation week and serving with this ministry on one of their design trips.

You can read my earlier article about EMI by clicking this link. There’s also a shorter article I posted while the team was on the ground.

In the meantime, today I want you to enjoy a video of the trip that our son Chris was on in Haiti. His team is now in Calgary continuing to do the final design work for the client organization, the Welcome Home Children’s Center. EMI has offices in Colorado, Calgary and Oxford, England and donations make it possible for them to do architectural and engineering designs for client charities at 90% off market rates.

February 23, 2015

The City Guy at the Christian Camping Mini-Conference

Short StoriesAs I thought about tomorrow’s 7th anniversary for this blog, I started reading some of the early stuff. This one seemed worthy of a third time around…I think that many of our organizations and local churches would be different if we could take this to heart…


 

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event. He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer. He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things. They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions. Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner. Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie. Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan. He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else. However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities. The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him. But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and mineral levels, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued, “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?'”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but lime and phosphates, and how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?'”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this. In any organization there are people. Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff. Some work on the front-lines and interact with the broader community. But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through. All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us. All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds. Those first impressions count. The love of God needs to be something we wear on our faces. There needs to be a difference.

“The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world. We miss the moment. We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives. We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people. We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded. He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question: In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, originally published July, 2006

 

July 17, 2014

The Moral Quandry of Website Re-Design

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

computerIf you have any technical skills at all, there are boatloads of money to be made in convincing website owners, including a great many Christian organizations, that their website needs to be upgraded.  Sometimes this is true. Most of the time it is simply not the case that the thing needs a fresh coat of paint.

In many cases, websites are under-performing because they are simply not maintained. In other cases, designers have supplied the organization in question with a great template but no little about the mission of the company or ministry to be able to supply content. In yet other cases, consultants are using minor technical glitches to justify a total refit.

Unfortunately, in other cases, the only argument that can be made for change is that people simply want a website that looks current, or want change because every other organization they deal with has upgraded their site this year.

In the case of what is probably one of the most widely used sites among Christians, BibleGateway.com, the changes necessitate relearning a website that was comfortable and familiar.  Things that were at the top are now at the bottom. The “resources” page now consists of a number of links to product that is being sold, not coincidentally, by the site’s new owners, HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Probably knowing the need to hedge their bets, the site has the option of reverting to the “old” Bible Gateway.

I guess the thing that bothers me most is that designers get paid big bucks to ply their HTML trade, while writers, content-producers and not-so-technically-gifted creatives work for peanuts. This happened to us literally. After not getting much direction from the author and then not hearing anything for several months, a bag of peanuts showed up in the mail. Seriously.

Christian organizations need to save their money and not be obsessed with having the best-looking site in town when website users may not even appreciate the changes. And designers need to stop bleeding organizations of the tithes and offerings they have collected from sincere donors.

Now then. Having said all that, I do have some friends who are website designers, and there are some sites out there that are hopelessly out of date. This wasn’t directed at them, but rather at the industry that revolves around change purely for the sake of change.

And yes. This blog has had the same theme since it started. I’ve looked at alternatives but there have been reasons I’ve stuck with the familiar red border and the thin serif-font lettering, also in red. Oh wait, that’s TIME Magazine. I’ll change when they do.

 

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