Being Honest with Leaders

I was recently asked by some close friends if their observations about their pastor were appropriate. We talked for a while and then hung up. But I was awakened in the night with the following thoughts. Here is what I wrote them:

From spending almost half of my adult years as a pastor and the other half as a person in the congregation, I see leadership in the church much differently than most pastors or lay people. I have seen both sides of ministry. And I have seen the abuse from both sides. I have been part of being hurt as well as hurting others from either position. I have not always handled these situations well, and through pain, I have learned several things. As I thought of our conversation, I would like to share with you a few more thoughts.

Let me first affirm you for asking if your reaction is reasonable or even appropriate. Talking with me is not triangulation because you were not seeking my insight to condemn or judge your pastor but to better understand yourself. You were not seeking to get me on your side or against your pastor. You were seeking to understand what you were feeling and/or sensing. Let me affirm your hearts.

Let me suggest several reasons you are probably feeling this way now. First, due to your history, you are sensitive to pastors displaying an attitude of being privileged. You have been exposed to pastors/church leaders in the past who were arrogant and were not part of healthy onsite and ongoing accountability. Your sensitivity is not bad but simply leads you to see the potentiality of these attitudes long before others do.

Second, all pastors are flawed. The question isn’t do pastors struggle with arrogance or insecurities of some sort; we pastors all do. Just like all human beings. The last time I checked, all pastors were human, so they do have their flaws. The question isn’t where they have flaws but whether are they aware of them and whether someone is helping address them so they don’t long-term hurt the Body of Christ.

Third, because of the previous paragraph, all pastors need someone who will speak the truth into their lives throughout their whole lives. Insecurities are usually blind spots, and the reason we call them blind spots is because we don’t see them ourselves. Most pastors today will tell you they have accountability partners, but too often, these individuals are other pastors who are located elsewhere and therefore do not see the pastor in their normal routines.  A pastor needs someone to speak truth into their life who experiences him/her weekly in messages, ministries, and relationships.

Fourth, pastors don’t just become arrogant, greedy, or self-serving overnight. (Notice, I don’t use the term narcissistic because it is a clinical term and way overused) This is a gradual process that taps into our own insecurities and is fed through others wanting a hero to worship and someone with all the answers to our problems. This is a difficulty of our culture, and over years, we pastors gradually begin to believe that we are gifted to speak for God into the lives of others, often in inappropriate ways, manners, and to extreme degrees. This leads us to see ourselves as entitled. (More on that at another time).

Because of these reasons, among others, let me suggest four considerations in your response.

First, you should initially seek to resolve your own offense. I love the book Unoffendable by Brant Hansen. I think he does a great job at expressing why we, as Christians, should be the least offended people of all. We are all sinners; we have our own issues, and yet we should be secure in Christ. So let me suggest you resolve to forgive your pastor before moving on to the following steps. As a pastor, I have been confronted by people who are trying to work out their own anger or fears while confronting me. Their emotions overshadowed or consumed the content of what they were trying to say. Only after you have come to forgive your pastor are you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to speak and listen to him/her.

Second, I believe as followers of Christ, we are responsible for speaking the truth in love within the body of Christ. This command in Ephesians is explicitly for those within the body. We don’t need to do so with those with whom we have no trust or with whom we don’t share the bond of Christ. I would suggest you spend time in prayer seeking from God exactly when and how to share this with your pastor. For instance, don’t do it right after he/she has preached or when they are in the middle of a church function. Do it One at a time when he/she has the security of time and space to hear you. You may even consider doing it first via email and offer to talk when they have time. This allows them to hear it, process it, and then decide when they can discuss it with you.

Remember, as you speak the truth in love, you also need to hear the truth in love. Sometimes people feel they can dump their load without receiving anything in return. Throughout the scriptures, we are encouraged to be “slow to speak and quick to listen,” so please ​speak and listen with love​.

Third, no matter when or in what form you speak the truth with love, own your own observations. In other words, share what you heard and what you felt. Don’t accuse your pastor of being rude, insensitive, arrogant, or other such things. Simply share what you experienced because of your hearing what he/she said. This is sending “I” messages by always trying to say, “I felt” or “I heard,” and then be quiet and listen.

Fourth, don’t bring “others” into this. This is part of owning it yourself. Too often, we feel better or more justified if we can say that others feel the same way. This isn’t healthy for several reasons; it shows we have been triangulating, and we need others to prop us up. As a pastor, I got so tired of hearing people quote “others” rather than owning issues themselves. I would ask who “others” were, and then I would seek these people out and often find that the “others” really didn’t share the same issue.

Thanks so much for being sensitive to your heart. Let me encourage you to follow it now as you follow the Spirit in this process of redeeming people, relationships, and His body.

Six Stages of Faith Described

landscape nature mountain hiking

For those who are new to the concept of faith in God, it can be challenging to understand the different meanings of the word, faith, or the many ways in which faith is used in the New Testament. There are three primary ways that faith is used: salvation faith, a body of doctrine or system of beliefs, and a state of being or living. These three ways of faith are essential in understanding the Christian faith.

Salvation faith is perhaps the most well-known form of faith. It is the faith that brings salvation and eternal life. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” This means that salvation is a gift that we receive through faith in God.

The second way faith is used is as a body of doctrine or system of beliefs. In 2 Timothy 4:7, the Apostle Paul writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In this context, he is referring to the entire body of Christian teaching, which includes everything from theology to ethics.

The third way faith is used is as a state of being or living. According to 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” This means that we live our lives in faith, trusting in God even when we cannot see Him.

Faith is not a one-time event but a journey that involves growth, development, and transformation. The six stages of faith development are:

  1. No Faith,
  2. Temporary Faith,
  3. Transactional Faith,
  4. Traumatic Faith,
  5. Transformational Faith, and
  6. Transcendent Faith.

Let’s take a closer look at each stage.  As you will see, Jesus describes most of these in his parable of the Sower in Mark 4.1-20, Matthew 13.1-15, and Luke 8.4-10.  I am convinced that this parable is in all three synoptic gospels because of the universality of the message across all cultures: various people will respond in various ways to the good news that Jesus came to offer.

1. No Faith:

The first stage of faith development is characterized by a lack of faith. Everyone has faith in something, whether it be science, facts, or their own abilities. However, they have not yet recognized the existence of God or accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In this stage, individuals may be skeptical of the concept of faith or indifferent to it altogether.

Jesus describes this stage of faith (Mark 4.4 & 4.14-15) as the seed that fell on the path which the birds came and snatched away.  Here he clearly states that the problem isn’t with the seed; it is where it fell or the state of the person in whom the seed fell.  He describes people who, due to different reasons, simply refuse to believe. Faith found no place to germinate and was taken by the enemy of the soul. We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.

2. Temporary Faith:

Temporary faith is often seen in people facing circumstances beyond their control, such as a life-threatening illness or a financial crisis. In these situations, people may turn to God and pray for help, but their faith may not be strong enough to sustain them in the long run.

We see this in the church all the time.  Individuals come to church because their marriage is in trouble or the child is out of control, and they come and commit their lives to follow Christ. This is a great beginning as it springs out of a desire to trust something greater than ourselves.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

This faith actually germinates and begins to grow.  However, if this type of faith isn’t developed into a more robust faith that applies beyond the immediate crisis, then their faith will wither.  Only as they deepen their roots to allow this faith to work deeply through everything they face and extend to their entire lives will they find their faith continues to grow.  They must learn to trust in God in all circumstances.

As Jesus describes (Mark 4.5-6 & 4.16-17), the seed that fell on the shallow soil.  It springs up to life, but because its roots are too shallow, when the sun comes out, their faith withers because the trouble they experienced couldn’t sustain their shallow faith.

We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.

3. Transactional Faith

Transactional faith is based on a transactional relationship with God, where individuals have faith because of what they believe God can do for them. They may pray for blessings or good health, and when those prayers are answered, they feel their faith has been rewarded. Most wouldn’t describe it as a transactional faith at the time. Only later do they see that by believing and having faith in God, they are assured of eternal life, now and forever. 

They read and believe passages like  Ephesians 2.8-9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”  And John 3.16, where Jesus asserts, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

As they find this salvation begins to change their lives, they seek to follow God more and commit more and more of their lives to him.  As they continue to deepen their faith, they continue to grow and trust in his promises they find in the Scriptures.  They see that God has given them wisdom for living their lives by his design. 

I think 2 Peter 1.3-8 describes this stage of faith well when Peter says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you might participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

It is at this junction I watch individuals grow deeper or become more resistant.  They find it hard to totally trust God in areas of their lives where they are just not sure they are willing to give God control.  They are not sure God’s love will care for them deeply, so they stop going deeper in their trust.  Outwardly, they still may attend church and go through the motions, but their faith inside is being crowded out by competing interests.  Often, these are not bad interests in themselves, just slowly becoming idols. 

It is these that Jesus continues to describe this type of faith (Mark 4,7 & 4.18-19) as the place where the seed germinates and grows but eventually is choked out by all the cares surrounding the person. 

Some people find too many competing interests, so instead of going deeper, they go shallow and slowly wither.  We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.

I find it interesting that those in the third season of faith development who continue to grow and orient their entire life around deepening their faith often come to the point of having their foundation of a faith tested in the next season of faith development.

4. Traumatic Faith

Traumatic faith is developed through the experiences of extreme suffering, pain, and loss. It’s a faith that endures through difficult and trying circumstances. It’s a faith that is developed “in spite of” what one is going through. Job, one of the characters in the Old Testament, is an excellent example of someone who developed traumatic faith. Whereas most of the faith expressed in the Psalms in the Old Testament is a kind of Transactional Faith, this wasn’t true of Job.  Despite losing everything he had, including his family and possessions, he still declared, “Though he slays me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

This kind of faith is evident in Paul in the New Testament.  When we read of his faith in the New Testament, we find a person who has progressed through the first three stages of faith development before he began his ministry with Barnabas (probably about 10 years into his Christian walk).  After Barnabas finds him in Tarsus and takes him to Antioch, we see his traumatic faith.  He later writes about the numerous hardships and persecution he faced, including being imprisoned, flogged, and stoned (2 Corinthians 11:21-28).

Anyone who has walked for a long period and deeply with Christ eventually comes to know personally what it means to have your faith “in spite of” the circumstances. Your faith is no longer to simply “get you through” your crises (Temporary Faith), nor is it because of what you are “get out of it” (Transactional Faith), but in deep pain, you find a faith that undergirds you during times of turmoil and pain.  Traumatic faith teaches us to hold on to God’s promises even when everything else fails. In this season, faith is not about everything turning out okay; rather, your faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.

The faith that develops out of this Traumatic season is best described by Robert Kriegel as “Faith is not the belief that everything will be all right tomorrow, but the belief that I possess the strength to make it through whatever comes.”

Some people walk away from their faith amidst this pain. We are called to love these people regardless of how they respond.

5. Transformational Faith

Transformational faith is a heart faith that is transformed through the crucible of life and now finds contentment through agape love, God’s love. This kind of faith develops when we surrender our lives through the landscape of living years with Christ as the center of our lives.  We allow Jesus to change us from the inside out.

Those whose faith has a resilience and a vibrancy of a life well lived in Christ find that there is little that shakes their faith.  So much of their life is about giving what they have learned, acquired, or been given to others.  They seek to invest in others and help others with little thought of what they will gain in return. Their lives are authentic, with no attempt to bring honor to themselves. 

Paul talks about this transformational faith (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), when he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Similarly, in Philippians 4:12-13, Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

We read of this faith of Paul, and we wonder at the depth of his faith.  It may help to realize Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians only a couple of years before he died.  He had a 35-year ministry and grew in depth and trust through all these stages.  We must be careful not to want his faith without the journey he went through to develop this depth.  He didn’t start here and didn’t end here, as we will see in the next or last stage of faith development.

These are the people Jesus describes (Mark 4.8 & 4.20) as going so deep in their faith that they multiply their impact thirty, sixty, and a hundred times!  We clearly see this through those who continue to live by faith (2 Corinthians 5.7 & Colossians 2.6-7) through all the seasons of life.  Their impact may never be known or published, but the lives they touch are the measure of their impact.

We must be careful not to dismiss these individuals as too saintly or spiritual.  They have simply been weathered many storms and wandered many deserts to find their faith secure.  It is a faith everyone can attain if they are willing to walk their lives in the love and Spirit of Christ.  Ironically, Jesus’ parable from Mark 4 only says about one of three whose faith initially sprouts actually reach this point.  I don’t think he intended to use quantifying the parable this way, but it does give one reason to pause.

6. Transcendent Faith

The sixth and final stage of faith is transcendent faith. At this stage, individuals are ready to move on from this life to the next, having fully embraced the concept of eternal life with God. This faith is demonstrated through a deep sense of peace and contentment, even in the face of death. The apostle Paul, in his letter to Timothy, displayed this type of faith when he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

This letter (2 Timothy) was the last written letter of Paul shortly before he died. Notice Paul is making ready for his departure, even using language that implies his race is just about over.  We don’t find a man despondent facing death and even desertion of some of his followers.  But rather a man who is reflective and thankful with a sense of victory in his spirit. 

I sometimes refer to Individuals in this final stage as the “check out” season of life.  This isn’t a bad thing, but they realize they are about the checkout, and all of their life is concerned with leaving this world and becoming a reality in eternity.  You know what it is like when you have a 10:00 am check out.  In the morning, you are doing what you need to do to be ready to leave.  The individuals in this stage of faith development, likewise, orient their lives toward their departure. 

Faith is a journey, and it develops over time through various seasons. The six stages of faith development described above illustrate this process. It is important to remember that wherever we are in our faith journey, God is with us, and we can always lean on Him for guidance and support. As the author and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” Faith in God can bring meaning, purpose, and hope to our lives, and it is a journey worth pursuing.

My Intrigue with AI

bionic hand and human hand finger pointing

Spoiler alert…I didn’t write last week’s Thursday Thought…an AI bot did.

The entire blog last week was written by an AI chatbot. Very few of you noticed! I first gave the AI bot a sample of my blog to review (the one on Polarizing Positions—four weeks ago). The bot then generated an analysis of my voice from that blog* (see below). Then I asked it to write a blog concerning the danger of comparison within social media and to include references by Seth Godin, Dallas Willard, and the New Testament.  What you saw in last week’s blog was entirely the creation of the chatbot at

Let me first apologize to those of you who said it was one of my best! No, that didn’t happen, but several found it very helpful. Ai is becoming disconcerting for me…that is good and bad.

Initially, some of the challenges of AI is that it would make an 8th grader sound like a graduate student. However, now all one must do is send the bot a copy of something they wrote, or better yet, multiple samples of something you wrote (in your “voice”). Once that is done, the ai bot will mimic the voice of the author and is capable of accounting for the individual’s style of speaking and/or writing. More or less. If you go back and read last week’s blog, you will notice things that are not like my writing style. For instance, I never say, “In conclusion” in my closing argument…I am just not that organized!

By the way, the scary aspect of the blog it wrote for me last week was that it wrote that blog instantaneously! Yes, it had perfect grammar, organization, and content in less than a second. I sometimes labor hours over how to say something and have multiple people read it for errors.

This is where it does get a little disconcerting. For instance, can I give it the 95 scales that I use in many of my assessments? Yes, I can give it the manuals that explain each of these scales, and it will summarize the scales well. However, as of now, AI is unable to synthesize the scales in a way that paints a composite of how one scale flavors another scale. This has taken me years of learning, and there are no current manuals to explain these interactions. Will there be someday? Yes.

I have learned a lot these past 30 years of doing assessments on how one scale from one instrument informs the scales of other instruments. I have learned this by talking, observing, reading, risking, asking for feedback, and changing my perspective. The AI bot can also do this with time if it is given the opportunity to learn with feedback. The algorithms cannot be black and white but must be nuanced. With time AI bots will get there.

This is where it really becomes intriguing. What will be left for us to do? As I have spoken with some who are deeply engaged in the development of AI, they don’t paint a rosy picture for many of us humans. I realize when automobiles came along, the horse population plummeted. Today, there are half the number of horses there were in 1900 in the United States (see the article the AI wrote for me on this topic at the end of this blog).

So what will we be needed for? What work will honor our Creator?

What is uniquely human about our existence and reasoning? As I think about this, we do have the ability to create, associate, integrate, interpolate, and extrapolate. These are all different ways we process experience, the context, and our values to make decisions. I anticipate in not too long, AI bots will be able to approximate these ways of processing.

Hopefully, we learn as we make decisions, live lives, and experience consequences.  AI bots cannot experience, but they can learn. Is there a difference? I think so. Neither do AI bots have emotions that are supra-rational. In other words, often, our emotions are not logical, and they can cause us to feel or act, or even think in ways that don’t make sense. And that, too, is an aspect of being human. Sensing the Spirit’s insight in our lives is an entirely different issue we will discuss later. God has given us a soul which integrates all aspects of ourselves. According to Dallas Willard, this is uniquely human. I hope so.

*Here’s my analysis of your writing style:

  1. Tone: Your writing style is thoughtful and introspective. You approach the topic of polarizing positions with a measured tone, acknowledging that there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue.
  2. Sentence Structure: You use a variety of sentence structures, including simple and complex sentences, to convey your ideas. This adds interest and variety to your writing.
  3. Vocabulary: Your vocabulary is varied and sophisticated, which helps to keep your writing engaging and informative. You use precise language to convey your thoughts clearly and effectively.
  4. Organization: Your blog post is well-organized and structured, with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. This makes it easy for readers to follow along and understand your argument.
  5. Use of Quotes: You use quotes effectively to support your argument and add credibility to your writing. You also use quotes sparingly, which helps to keep the focus on your own ideas and analysis.

Overall, your writing style is engaging and informative, and you have a clear grasp of the topic you are discussing. Keep up the good work!

**The early 1900s was a time when horses were an integral part of daily life, serving as transportation, labor, and even companionship. However, with the rise of modern technology, the use of horses has dwindled significantly. So, how many horses were there in 1900 compared to today?

In the early 1900s, there were an estimated 20 million horses in the United States alone. These horses were used for everything from plowing fields to pulling carriages and wagons. Horses were also used in the military for transportation and in the cavalry for battle. The horse industry was thriving, and many people made their living as horse trainers, breeders, and caretakers.

Today, the number of horses in the United States has significantly decreased. According to the American Horse Council, there were an estimated 9.2 million horses in the United States in 2021. This represents a decrease of over 50% from the number of horses in 1900.

The decline in the horse population can be attributed to several factors. The rise of the automobile and other forms of transportation led to a decreased demand for horses for transportation. Advances in farming technology, such as tractors and other machinery, also reduced the need for horses in agriculture. Additionally, the shift in lifestyle and leisure activities has led to a decrease in the popularity of horseback riding and equestrian sports.

Despite the decrease in the overall number of horses, certain breeds have experienced a resurgence in popularity. For example, the Quarter Horse and the Thoroughbred are two breeds that have seen an increase in demand in recent years. The popularity of horse racing and rodeo events has also kept some breeds in demand.

In conclusion, while there were an estimated 20 million horses in the United States in 1900, today, there are only an estimated 9.2 million horses. The decline in the horse population can be attributed to a number of factors, including advances in technology and changes in lifestyle. However, certain breeds continue to thrive, and the horse industry remains an important part of American culture and history.

The Dangers of Social Media

girl performing shadow theatre

The Dangers of Social Media: How It Fuels a Comparison Mentality

Last week I briefly mentioned social media being either a resume or a journal.  Let me share some deeper perspectives.

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. While it has its benefits, social media also has its dangers. One of the most insidious dangers is how it fuels a comparison mentality that none of us can win. In this blog post, we’ll explore the dangers of social media and how it creates constant pressure to compare ourselves to others.

Seth Godin once said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” In the case of social media, people don’t just share what they do; they share why they do it. Social media is full of carefully curated images and stories that depict a perfect life, but it’s important to remember that these images are not always an accurate representation of reality. Comparing our lives to the highlight reel of someone else’s life can be damaging to our mental health.

As Dallas Willard wrote, “The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become.” Social media can create a false sense of identity based on external validation rather than internal growth. By constantly comparing ourselves to others, we can lose sight of our own unique identity and what truly matters in life.

Social media can also create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that leads to unhealthy behavior. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” By focusing on what truly matters, we can avoid the trap of FOMO and find contentment in the present moment.

Moreover, social media can also lead to online harassment, cyberbullying, and the spread of misinformation. While social media can be a powerful tool for communication and activism, it’s important to use it responsibly and with empathy toward others.

In conclusion, the dangers of social media are real, but they can be mitigated by recognizing the comparison mentality that it fuels. By focusing on our own unique journey and seeking contentment in the present moment, we can resist the pressure to compare ourselves to others. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Let us also not forget the importance of using social media responsibly and with empathy toward others. As the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:8-9, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

It seems that some of us all of the time or all of us some of the time are sucked into a culture of comparison fostered through social media. I am not suggesting we become troglodytes by burning our computers, but let’s be aware of the dangers and allow these passages to form our values on social media rather than the other way around.

Is your social media a resume or a journal?

close up shot of app icons

You may ask yourself, what is the difference? A resume is written to accentuate your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. It is intended to make you look like you can handle anything a prospective role could throw at you. Whereas a journal is the deepest longings of your heart, mind, and soul. My journal is full of things I don’t want anyone else to see because it shows my depravity in full bloom. It is really what is going on inside of me as I bring it to my Lord and let him redeem it. So it is not pretty. I have told Mary Kay to burn my journals when I die.

So, is your social media image a resume or a journal? Only you know.

To clarify, I am not saying you should show all your junk on the internet. That is plain foolishness and exhibitionism. However, we can show our life in a realistic perspective.  Maybe we don’t photoshop the picture before putting it up. Maybe we don’t only write about the great things that happen, but possibly some of our struggles. 

This is easy for me to write as I don’t have too many social media accounts and seldom check them if I do. However, these blogs come right out of my journal and express much of what I am struggling with. At times I realize that I do want people to think I have “got it all together.” I must be careful to not present myself in that way. I am learning to write more honestly. I write this post to keep myself honest, I don’t want this blog to be one where I only portray myself in a positive light. 

Mentors, Friends, and Luminaries

What kind of influencer are you? There is a great deal of talk today about being an influencer. Social Media has provided a financial forum for some individuals to capitalize on their ability to influence others. They may make a lot of money but let me suggest that their lifetime impact on the lives of others will be minimal. There is a difference between influencing and transforming.

I woke up one morning at about 4:00 am and had an overwhelming sense of how blessed I have been by those men and women who have poured themselves into my life. As I thought about these individuals in those early hours, it became apparent to me that there are four kinds of influencers that have fueled transformation in my life:

  1. Individuals who intentionally mentored me in some area of life.
  2. Friends & colleagues who peer-mentored me as we worked together.
  3. Authors whose wisdom and knowledge influenced me through their writing.
  4. Individuals whom I passed on what I received from the three previous groups.

I am sure many in all four groups will never know the extent they have impacted my life.  Previously, I have written about my eighth-grade math teacher, Mrs. Brown, and several other educators who challenged me to grow beyond my own self-imposed limits.  As I wrote this blog, it became obvious to me that who I am today is the result of the input others have had in my life. I am totally indebted to each of these groups of people. I am blessed because I have had the privilege of individuals serving as models, mentors, friends, and confidants, who guided me in becoming the person I wanted or needed to be. When I failed, as I so often did, they continued to point me forward rather than condemn where I had fallen short.

Let’s lay it on the table that my parents and wife Mary Kay surely had a dramatic impact on who I am today, but for this post, they aren’t the subject.

Intentionally seeking others to impact me began after a visiting professor at Michigan challenged me to find a much older person (close to retirement) whose life expressed what I desired and simply ask them what they did to become who they were. Since then, I have done this in many and varied ways. It began during my last two years of college. I had four individuals: Bob Peabody, Chuck Heater, Jeff Spahn, and Kurt Kampe, take a lot of time and effort in guiding me in the basics of a relationship with Christ. All of them were roommates at one time, and the trajectory of my life was changed forever.  What a privilege!

As I reflected on the first group of individuals who intentionally invested in me to become the person God desired for my life, I came up with this abbreviated list:

Name                                     Age              Role of impact
Ernie & Lenora Walters     22-26             Spiritual priorities of life
Don Loomer                       22-30             Spiritual, Disciple Making & Pastoral
Dave Grubbs                       26-30             Preaching, Leadership
Frank Tillapaugh                28-32              Pastoring, Leadership
Chuck Singletary               32-45              Church Planting, Disciple Making & Catalytic
Reggie McNeal                  45-55              Leadership, Catalytic
John Boedeker                   45-55              Leadership, Heart
Paul Borden                        46-62             Leadership, Church models
Al Ells                                   46-present    Leadership, Spiritual/Mental Health, & Marriage

Almost all of these were formal and intentional relationships, where the mentor and I clearly knew what I was seeking to become through their life. It is dangerous to make a list because some individuals are left off the list accidentally or, by my memory, recall flaws.  However, I hope this gives a general sense of the number and roles of influence that others intentionally played in my life. As you will notice, often, the years overlapped. Each person brought a different component of growth to my life. They were all very different. Some I paid money for, and some I didn’t. Some started through fees and then developed into an informal non-paid relationship.

They all modeled for me characteristics that they attempted to manifest in my life. None of these people were perfect, but I had so much to learn from each of them. I am a combination of all their attributes, behaviors, wisdom, and perspective. I shared something different with each of them; for some, it was a personality trait. For others, it was a philosophy of ministry, while still others, it was a desire for personal health or a combination of the three. However different these influencers were, they each brought about a deep transformation in my life.

The second group is composed of those whom I would consider peers, friends, or colleagues that spoke into my life for a season or two. These peer-mentors are those I worked with side by side. They opened their lives to me in a way as we worked together. Their attitudes, hearts, thoughts, and behaviors became a part of my essence without notice or special attention. I didn’t know it at the time, but now as I look back, I can see that their lives dramatically influenced and transformed me.

I listed the names of over thirty of individuals in this category as I reflected on this group. These influencers are those individuals whose personal lives intertwined with mine from beside me. Some worked with me at General Motors or taught with me at The University of Central Florida and Warner University.  Others were on staff with me at the three churches I had the privilege of serving.  Some were pastors I have worked beside here in Florida; others were staff and colleagues while I was State Pastor for Florida Church of God Ministries, Healthy Growing Churches, and Healthy Growing Leaders. 

As I reviewed the list, I found it interesting that these individuals were divided between men and women, Anglo, African American, and Hispanic, and across every age group from their early twenties to late eighties.

The third group of individuals who influenced me did so from a distance through their writings. Though I never met any of them personally, I have read deeply and widely about individuals across ancient and modern times. I have read thousands of books by hundreds of authors. I have read books from many different faiths and topics as diverse as quantum mechanics to psychology, statistics to spiritual formation. Though I have been challenged in my thinking by all of the authors in this third group, a subset has worked a deeper life change. These are the few whose works I have read across most of their books written and whose faith spurred me on. People like:

  • David Seamans
  • Gordon MacDonald
  • CS Lewis
  • JB Phillips
  • Bobby Clinton
  • Edwin Friedman
  • Eugene Peterson
  • Dallas Willard

have impacted my life by causing me to make shifts in thinking, ministry, or personal habits over a long span of life. Obviously, there have been so many authors whose one book caused me to think differently, but these few caused major paradigm shifts in my life.  And I am not done…

The fourth and final groups include those in whom I have intentionally invested my life into.  These are those that I tried to invest in people, what others had so graciously given me.  This is my kids, grandchildren, students taught, small groups led, premarital couples, congregants who endured my preaching, clients served, and individuals who have learned from my videos or read my posts. As anyone knows who has mentored others, I often received more than I would have ever dreamed possible. 

My perspective is so biased and limited on this fourth group.  This is where I must trust my Lord.  I am intentionally devoted to my family.  I am intentionally devoted to those in my small group right now.  I am intentionally devoted to those on my HGL team right now. I will be intentionally faithful in the little things and trust my impact on others to Him.

As I reflect on each of these four groups of influencers in my life, there were less than ten in the first group, thirty to forty in the second group, hundreds in the third group, and I have no clue how many in the fourth group.

Make Peace with Reality and Move On

“Make Peace with Reality and Move On”… is some of the best advice I received from my mentor Chuck Singletary 35 years ago. As I reflect on my life, I have learned to process things in my journal and then come to be at peace with it and move on. I think my journaling sometimes has served as a trusted confidant instead of another person. As I express my critical thoughts/observations/judgments in my journal, I can see them for what they are. Often the narrative in my head then changes, and I can truly be at peace with the situation.

Last week in my TT, I wrote about speaking the truth to others, but I think too often, as Christians, we feel we have the right, obligation, or need to correct others with whom we disagree. For me, this is dangerous for at least three reasons: 1) we may be wrong in our observation and 2) our motive may be impure, and 3) they may not be able to hear it.

Concerning the first danger, I find that so often, what I initially think changes over time as I learn more or reflect more upon the situation. If I am too quick to speak out or express my opinion, I would be dead wrong, or at least not well prepared. This is obviously the danger of social media; we can dump our criticism into the internet with little thought or in-depth insight. I have learned that my words sweeten with time. If I process my thoughts and feelings in my journal, the harshness is often softened. Then, if I end up having to eat my own words, they actually go down much easier at that point. If I have lived with them before speaking them, they seem better.

I am not talking about ruminating on my own thoughts and feelings here. In other words, by “processing,” I mean I am looking for reasons that my thoughts or feelings are wrong. I seriously challenge myself. Too many people just “ruminate,” which means they get caught in a vicious cycle of thoughts that reaffirm they are right, and they become even more hardened in their position, or they continually beat themselves up. This is why my words are sweetened as I process them. Because they always are softened through questioning my content and motives, not hardened.

I would estimate that 75% of the issues that I journal about never reach the point of my actually addressing them with others. This is partially because as I journal and process the issue, I realize I am wrong. I have learned to write things down from the other person’s perspective, which often causes me to see things very differently. I write down what and why they would feel or act as I perceived them. This is what gives me a different perspective, and often I make peace with reality and move on.

I also process why I am feeling or thinking a certain way which brings me to the second danger. So often in this thinking, writing, and processing my thoughts and feelings, I realize that my perspectives are so influenced by my own narratives, which are not pure. I see my insecurities for what they are and how they are manifesting themselves in my thoughts or feelings. As I attempt to write these things down, it is obvious the problem lies in my own issues, not as much in the other person’s thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors. So I make peace with reality and move on.

The third danger in criticizing another is that often I don’t have the platform to make a judgment in another’s life. I believe we are called to love everyone. And I mean everyone! If I love someone and am really committed to walking with them through life transformation, then in an appropriate time and manner, I do think I can speak the truth with love. However, if I am not in a relationship to love someone by seeking their benefit through our relationship, then I don’t have the platform to speak the truth with love. In other words, if I don’t have the relationship to walk with that person and encourage that person and stand with that person in love, then I best not speak the truth to that person. It is best that I make peace with reality and move on.

After this questioning and clarifying my thoughts and feelings, I am ready to talk with an individual. Without exception, what I say or do is so different than what I would have said or done at the outset of this process. This whole way of approaching my own thoughts, words, behaviors, and feelings, as well as others, has become almost second nature to me over my years of journaling. Obviously, this can be done with a friend as well. But I am not sure one is able to do all of this in their “head” because things get too jumbled and influenced by our own narratives.

For me, the significance of this is that I get it out of my head and onto the screen (or journal book). I can read it much more objectively than I can think it. There may be some who can do so, but somehow, I doubt it…but I could be wrong 😑.

Polarizing Positions

I was copied on an email recently that was sent to a leader of an influential Christian organization. The author of the email (let’s call him Larry, not his real name) railed against the leader and the organization for not keeping the culture Biblical and centered in Christ. Larry went on to highlight similar issues in this organization dating back sixty years! In the email, Larry cc’d about 30 individuals, many of whom I recognized. Larry also mentions an upcoming meeting with this leader to discuss these issues.

What bothered me most about this email is that Larry has been a pastor for much of his life. I responded politely and asked Larry to remove me from his distribution list.  We all know that by cc’ing individuals it implies they agree with us or are “part of their camp.” I also privately emailed the leader and told him that I didn’t agree with Larry’s approach. 

I was also bothered because Larry sent this to 30 individuals as well as posted it on his Facebook account BEFORE he talked with the leader. In my communication with the leader, he was obviously hurt that this went public before Larry could seek to understand the facts from the proverbial “horse’s mouth.”

The really, really sad part of this scenario is that this kind of event is being carried out in Christian relationships on social media every day, tens of thousands of times! Throughout the New Testament, we are told to seek to resolve our differences by going face-to-face with an individual. Instead, we triangulate by speaking to others about the third party.

Here are three very clear passages that outline how we are to deal with others of faith with whom we disagree.

In Matthew 18, Jesus clearly gives us a process to deal with our brothers and sisters in the church with whom we have a difference of perspective:

15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matthew 18.15-17

In chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is pretty clear about how we should deal with issues within the church where we don’t agree with each other…

15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work…

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4.15-16, 25, 29-32

In Romans 1, Paul includes “gossips and slanders” among some fairly serious other behaviors with which others that Christians wouldn’t identify:

29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1.29-32

This is clearly not what is being practiced today by followers of Christ in the church and on social media.  Jesus was honest, transparent, and loving in all his communication. He spoke the truth even when it hurt others or when it eventually led to him being killed by those who didn’t agree with him. 

I find it interesting that this teaching, though ignored, isn’t new.  Stephen Covey wrote over 30 years ago that one of the seven habits of highly effective people is that they first seek to understand before being understood.

I ask myself, why do so many followers of Christ today become so polarized and almost belligerent? First, I think electronic communication and social media allow anyone to express anything with little sense of accountability. We say things electronically that we would seldom state face to face with another. So rather than communicate our perspective and/or concerns with someone in a loving and truthful manner and listen, we just dump, categorize and blame.

Second, I think many Christians today are more influenced by their own insecurities or narratives than by the Spirit’s transformational work of conforming us to the image of Christ. We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that we are to have the mind of Christ. That is, a mind centered on the attitudes and expressions we read of Jesus. However, too often, Christians are afraid of being honest and loving face-to-face with another. They gossip rather than express something face to face.  Or they simply say something electronically.

Ironically Paul writes to a church in Corinth that is struggling with this very issue. Their lives are not very transformed and therefore reflected the culture around them. They were divisive, gossiping, selfish, inappropriate sexually, and simply acting like the culture in the city of Corinth. He, therefore, writes them several letters on how their lives should be different when they are in Christ. 

In one passage where he intentionally deals with their ability to be people of reconciliation, he says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Corinthians 5.17

We are not to emulate what we see around us. We are not to allow the behavior of those around us to influence who we are. We are new creations, and therefore we need to deal with our old narratives in ways that neuter their power to control us. 

I am convinced if we who are in Christ would live like we are new creations, those around us would notice quickly. They would notice because we would be honest and loving in all our communications. We would not speak behind any other person’s back but rather speak with them. If we would act like we are created to be, there would be no need to preach on street corners or hold John 3.16 signs in the endzones. Because people would want this relationally transforming presence personified in their relationships.

I am saddened that we don’t stand out for our Christlike behaviors, so we have to wear signs, bracelets, or t-shirts that express our faith.

Preparing for the Rest of Your Life

I recently worked very hard on a project for a week and then completed it. I put my best effort into the design and definitions of this assessment instrument. And when I sent it off to our partners, I had a distinct sense of accomplishment. I felt good and fulfilled as I pushed that send button. This is the sense of accomplishment that we are intended to have when we do our work well. Work that makes a difference in the Kingdom. It has only taken me decades to figure out what can only I do which produces this sense. 

Too often, I would get mired in work that simply doesn’t fit the way I am wired. I would find myself working for hours at things that others could do so much better than I. In fact, only several months ago did we realize that I am very good at psychometric work but mediocre at best at project management. So now I have hired someone to manage the whole instrument creation process. That is what bogged me down so often. So, I am still learning what I am good at and how to focus specifically on those kinds of activities and allow others to shine in their strengths.

I know that most people my age are slowing down and retiring. However, as I just illustrated, I am more productive and enjoying it more now than ever. Why would I slow down? One of the reasons Mary Kay and I are so enjoying our lives at this stage is that we actually prepared for this stage for most of our lives without really thinking about it. 

One of the aspects that helps maintain our healthy and happy outlook in life has been our sleep, diet, exercise, and spiritual centering over our lifetimes. From early in our twenties, MK would insist on going to bed early and being consistent in that discipline. I adapted to her practices and adopted her habits. The same has been done in our eating and exercise. We joined a health food co-op in the 1970s. I was always one who tried to stay in decent physical shape, albeit differently in every decade. For spiritual centering, I have journaled for over 40 years.

It wasn’t always like this. I started eating healthy in my early twenties because I lost a bet with a guy over whether there was sugar in Morton’s salt. I ate junk food all the time and drank sugared soda with almost every meal. As a result of losing that bet, I could not eat sugar for 30 days, and it radically changed my eating habits for life. 

If you want to make a significant impact in the next decade, you must choose to live that way in this decade.

If one wants to enjoy their 50s, 60s, and beyond, one must live in their 30s and 40s in a way that prepares for it. Too often, we only decide to address something when it becomes a problem, this is the problem. Because by the time an issue is a problem, it very well may be too late to rectify the problem. This isn’t just true of the physical body but also your emotional, mental, and even social life. And let’s not forget that all these areas directly impact our walk with Christ, our impact on the lives of others, and our ability to labor for a lifetime.

It is interesting how I accused those in the church I grew up in of hypocrisy because they would criticize those who smoked, and yet many were obese and saw nothing wrong with that. I told them that their weight was as much a strain on their body as smoking. They didn’t listen. But obviously, I was mindful of physical health while in my teens, even before I was a follower of Christ.  It appears I have always felt it was important. Only after coming to Christ did I see my body as a place where the Holy Spirit resides. Therefore it was best for me to present him with a useful abode.

In my twenties, I began a ruthless evaluation of every area of my life. I began to read a lot and widely. I began to work on my emotional health through mentors. I began to build into my life small habits that, over five decades, would produce significant dividends. Because I am not an especially disciplined person, many of those habits had to be built on a solid Why.  For me, the why was to be a sharp tool in the hands of my Maker for his purposes.  Little did I realize those same small habits in diet, exercise, sleep, and mental/emotional acuity would pay significant dividends later in life.

I have maintained this lifestyle for the past almost 50 years. I could die tomorrow of cancer or in a car accident. I must commit my life and the timing of my death to God. However, as much as it relies on me, I will provide him with good tools (body, mind, soul, and spirit) to use in his Kingdom.

So don’t wait until the future to take of yourself. Take care of your future by creating habits today.  If you want to make a significant impact in the next decade, you must choose to live that way in this decade.

What is Education?

I had an interesting dream a few weeks ago. I dreamt that I went to high school. The odd thing was that while I was in the physical body of a high schooler, I had my current mind of a 68-year-old. It was odd as I was attending the school for the first time as a new student, so I didn’t know where or when my classes were held. It was as if I had been taking the classes online and was now transitioning to the real classroom. The other students had been there all along. It was disconcerting being in the new environment but reassuring because I was 68 years old. I wasn’t panicking like a teenager. 

In fact, it was fun because, in my head, I felt I knew more than most of the teachers and administrators because they were so much younger than I was. But I still looked like a teenager, so I couldn’t act haughty. I had all kinds of thoughts about what and how we were learning in high school and, more importantly, why we were learning many things. I distinctly recall thinking through the whole educational approach of our culture during this dream.

It was a lucid dream, and I when woke up, I continued to think with a passion through the purpose and process of education for the next hour. Obviously, I lost some sleep that night but enjoyed the dream and the resulting processing.

I came up with this definition of education: Learning to Comprehend Reality Well.

I word-smithed each word in this definition during my time awake in the middle of the night…

For my time thinking through this, here is what I came up with:

  • Learning is understanding the concepts and incorporating them into one’s life.
  • Comprehending is integrating concepts across cognitive, affective, social, and physical domains.
  • Reality is understood as the material world (cosmos), the experiential world (what we experience with our senses), and micro (quantum mechanics), as well as the immaterial world (spiritual, ethereal, values).
  • Well means in ways that benefit oneself personally as well as their immediate or greater world.

I think it is time to rethink our approach to education.  Are there benefits to the multiplication tables, yes. Is it worth the effort to commit them to memory, maybe? I fully appreciate my ability to think today is rooted in the skills I learned in school, but I am convinced penmanship was not one of them!

I need to continue processing this. By the way, it was much easier to be in high school with the mind of a 68-year-old rather than that of a 16-year-old!  So many of the things that I was concerned about when in high school didn’t produce a bit of concern in my current state of mind. I think this would be true of most of life. The tough experiences of growing up give us a different perspective, called wisdom.

Copyright © 2023 | Healthy Growing Leaders