Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Building Bridges to the Future

I wrote this article originally for the e-Message (our monthly e-newsletter). You may subscribe to the e-Message by sending an e-mail to Brian Kaylor (bkaylor@baptistgcm.org). You may read the archives on our web site.

On Tuesday, April 29th, I met with representatives from several Baptist conventions and associations from across the Midwest in Kansas City. I had asked Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church and Vice President at Large, National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., to assist in convening a group of key Baptist leaders during April to the discuss the feasibility of a regional meeting of the larger Baptist family in 2009. We had representatives from several National Baptist conventions, General Baptists, American Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri present for the discussion.

Our Order of Business Committee and Board of Directors have given approval to exploring a collaborative or joint meeting with our Baptist brothers and sisters in 2009 in the Kansas City area. I don’t know if the meeting with happen next year, but I felt our initial discussions were very positive. I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

On March 12th I attended a follow-up meeting for the New Baptist Covenant hosted by Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Approximately 70 people representing nearly 40 Baptist bodies across North American were present. A great deal of excitement and enthusiasm was generated by New Baptist Covenant Celebration. The real question is what next? It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a meaningful ongoing relationship. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement. One exciting development from the follow-up meeting was preliminary decision to move toward another North American gathering in 2011.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. I believe Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality in their worship is much more than merely the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Obviously, this is also true for the other predominately Anglo denominations. Our first step is to get to know each other. We are planning a second leadership meeting in June, and I am looking forward to where God takes us in this discussion.

I wrote the second in a series of articles on Leadership in my blog earlier this month. In it a quoted Joel Barker who said, “More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be.” We need leaders today who help bring the family of God together rather than dividing it or driving it apart. I am glad our convention is a part of an effort to build bridges to the future. I pray it is a future that brings a new level of partnership and collaboration among the larger Baptist family.

Visiting Old Friends

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Memorial Baptist Church near Nelson, Missouri. The open country congregation is without a pastor, and I had shared with their Director of Missions that I would be happy to supply for them sometime. Memorial Baptist Church called me as their pastor a little over 35 years ago while I was a single college student. I served the church for a little over five years. During that time I married, finished college and seminary, and Bettie Jo and I had our first child. The church ordained me to the Gospel Ministry. The church family provided a setting for me to apply what I was learning as I prepared for ministry. In a sense, they "raised me" as they have many "preacher boys." Most of all they loved and accepted me. Obviously, many of the people who were there when I served as their pastor are gone, and now there are new faces and new leaders. A few of the old-timers (like me) were still there. It was good to renew friendships, and it was good to remember how God used the congregation to help shape my life and ministry. I will always be grateful to the family of God known as Memorial Baptist Church.

After the worship service Bettie Jo and I drove to Eldon, Missouri, to attend a reception for Dr. Randall Bunch who retired this past Sunday as Pastor of the First Baptist Church. Randall has had a long and very productive ministry in a variety of ministry settings, but more than half of his ministry has been at First Baptist Church in Eldon. I have had the opportunity to preach revivials at First Baptist Church twice over the years. The congregation is truly a gracious and committed Christian family. They are an easy congregation and setting to preach. I believe they reflect the spirit and character of their pastor. Randall is gracious, thoughtful, and very insightful pastor and leader. He is a man of character and conviction. He genuinely has a pastor's heart. Dozen's of his church members shared stories with Bettie Jo and me about how he has cared for and ministered to them and their family. It was great to share in the celebration of his retirement.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri recently elected Randall as our convention president. It will be a privilege to have his leadership this year, and I look forward to working with him as we explore the future G0d has planned for our ministry.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Building Ministry Teams

A number of years ago a transition began within American life as both the corporate and non-profit sectors of our society began moving toward the development of “teams.” Sometimes the transition was primarily a nomenclature change and really did not involve real substance. A business may have renamed departments or divisions into teams even when the new organizations never actually made the transition to teams. Other organizations radically changed the nature of their structures and functions and began to benefit from the new potential generated by genuine teams. Unfortunately, the church is sometimes shaped by our world, instead of being shapers of the world. We often lag behind even when the ideas being applied are founded on sound Biblical principles.

I have the wonderful privilege of being a part of our first priority staff team. Our BGCM staff named our team first priority as a constant reminder that our first priority is serving churches. I have served with a wide variety of staff groups, departments, divisions, etc., over the past 35 years. I can genuinely say I have never served with a better “team.”

A few years ago I picked up a little book in an airport store while I was looking for something to read on my trip home. The book, entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, was written by Patrick Lencioni. He calls it a leadership fable. It was a lot different than most leadership books I have read. It reads more like a short story as the author tells the story of how a dysfunctional team becomes an effective and productive team. It was a fascinating read.

I have participated in a wide variety of “team building” seminars, workshops and events. I completed a 40-hour, facilitator certification training provided by the Next Level Leadership Network for “Building Powerful Ministry Teams” a few years ago. In reality Patrick Lencioni’s little book was simplest and most helpful approach I have found for building ministry teams. It focuses upon the barriers that keep groups from becoming real teams. Lencioni says, Genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been. Organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls.

The lessons from his book are:

1. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

2. This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

3. A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

4. Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

5. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their division above the collective goals of the team.

While Patrick Lencioni writes for corporate America, I believe the principles he shares are both practical and Biblical. Healthy teams trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering on those plans, and focus on the achievement of collective results. I have had the opportunity to lead several workshops for church staff teams and congregations as they began to explore ways to make their ministry teams more effective.

Check out his Patrick Lencioni’s site at The Table Group. Let us know if you are interested in a workshop or retreat for your staff. (Free is a lot cheaper than Patrick Lencioni.) I would also recommend his other books: Death by Meeting, The Five Temptations of a CEO, and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. They are all interesting reading, and Death by Meeting is definitely appropriate for Baptists. He has two I have not read yet, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Let us know how we can help you as you seek to build effective ministry teams.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Leadership (part 2)

This is the second in my series of articles on leadership. In some ways the nature and characteristics of a leader never change. All of us recognize leadership traits in the lives of people we encounter in our daily lives. Most of us could develop a pretty good list of characteristics for successful leadership. Joel Barker (in Leadershift) said the characteristics of a leader never change. He identified qualities like loyalty, compassion, communication, courage, commitment, integrity, trust, and inspiration.

Barker said, “More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be.” Remember his definition of a leader—A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. The Christian life is all about change. Paul indicates in the eighth chapter of Acts that God has planned for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Everyday and in everyway God is in the business of shaping our lives. Pastoral leadership is allowing God to use your life in the “shaping process” in the lives of others, both individually and corporately. We do not manipulate, control or coerce people into change, but we build bridges to the future that enable people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be.

You probably remember the guy with the hat that said, I’m their leader...which way did they go! Someone has rightly said, “If no one is following, you are not leading.” People have to choose to follow leaders. They choose to follow people they trust, people with integrity, and people who inspire them. Leadership development is far more than developing a set of management skills. It is developing character. It is the process of becoming the person God created you to be.

One of the reasons leaders must “build bridges” is because life is a journey. For Christians it is a journey of faith. We travel a life road designed to help us not only accomplish God’s will in our lives, but, maybe more importantly, a road designed to help us become the people God’s wants us to be. The transformation of a life is a lifelong process.

I have told a number of staff members through the years, “We need to take the long look!” Everything does not have to happen right now. We just have to keep moving in the direction God has planned for us. Every time we make leadership decisions in our ministries we need to be thinking about the future. Is this the right decision for the long-term? Too often we are looking for simple solutions and quick fixes, and many times they turn out to be the source of new troubles or reoccurring problems.

Joel Barker’s first lesson for 21st century leaders is “leaders must focus the majority of their efforts on the future.” No one else is charting the course for the congregation’s journey. No one is “building the bridges” that will be necessary to help the congregation successfully move into the future. Both the “tyranny of the urgent” and the “overload of the present” keep many pastors and church leaders from investing the time, energy and spiritual discipline necessary to explore God’s future for their congregation’s ministry.

I have a personal passion for helping churches think strategically about the future. What is our “current reality” both internally and externally? What does God want us “to be” and “to do” as we confront these realities and move into the future he has planned for us. I believe the failure of church leaders and congregations to think and act strategically regarding their church’s ministry causes them to miss incredible opportunities as they drift through years of “business as usual” ministry that keeps them locked in the past. Sometimes they are like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. Leaders help them see the future. They build bridges from where we are to where we want to be. They are bridges of hope and vision. Is there risk in the journey? Sure, but there is even greater risk when we fail to make the journey.

Ernest Mosley’s brief book, Called to Joy: A Design for Pastoral Ministries, defined one of the major responsibilities of pastoral ministry as the task of leading the church in the accomplishment of its mission. We do not accomplish this visionary leadership in isolation from our preaching and pastoral care ministries. All the pastoral roles are intertwined. My conviction is we often spend too little time, energy and spiritual discipline in leading. I would encourage you to explore the future God has planned for you and your congregation. Then get busy building bridges to that future as you lead your church to accomplish God’s mission in our world.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Organic Leadership

I participated in a webinar sponsored by The Columbia Partnership today. The session was focused on Organic Leadership and was led by Robert D. (Bob) Dale. The session provided an brief overview of his new book Seeds for the Future: Growing Organic Leaders for Living Churches. It was good to reconnect with Bob Dale. I am about one-third through the book, and I am fascinated by his thoughts. He talked today about the transition in his own life and thoughts about leadership. He uses the model of three interlocking circles (similar to the model I referenced in my earlier post on leadership). Churches are not static organizations, but living organisms. They need organic leadership which focuses on Connecting, Centering, and Challenging. Bob's book provides fresh look at leadership for our day, and new handles for cultivating leadership in your own life and growing leaders in your congregation.

On a related note the BGCM staff has been exploring options for providing training experiences for churches and church leaders. Our Great Commission initiatives are leadership development, congregational health, church planting, and missions mobilization. All of these initiative areas include significant training opportunities. One of the options we are exploring is the development of more web-based training programs, webinars, on-line affinity groups, etc. We would like to hear about your needs. We would also like to hear from you about the delivery systems and training methods that would work best for you.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Celebrating with Brothers and Sisters

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri held our Annual Meeting yesterday and today at Fee Fee Baptist Church in St. Louis. Fee Fee is the oldest protestant church still in existence west of the Mississippi River. The church was founded in 1807. Fee Fee is also the place where the BGCM was organized six years ago. Randy Fullerton, pastor of Fee Fee, and the congregation acted courageously and with vision to host the organizational meeting. It was wonderful to experience their gracious hospitality as we gathered for this year's meeting.

While there was no overt reference to the 40th anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we marked the anniversary by having two outstanding Black pastors speaking at our Annual Meeting. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., recently retired Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City and Vice-President At-Large of the National Baptist Convention of America, spoke during our Friday afternoon session. He had to leave immediately after his message to participate in a special event marking the anniversary of Dr. King’s death at the church where he was pastor for 40 years. His son, Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, followed him as Senior Pastor.

We also heard Dr. Ronald L. Bobo, Sr., Senior Pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis and past President of the Youth Department of the Baptist World Alliance, during our Friday evening session. The Berean District Choir from St. Louis and the Contemporary Choir from Dr. Bobo’s church joined with the choir and praise team from Fee Fee to lead us in worship. We had a great time of worship together.

We were also blessed by the Annual Convention Sermon delivered by Dr. Scott Harrison, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, the President’s Address by Dr. Harlan Spurgeon, and the two messages (on Friday evening and Saturday morning) by Dr. William O’Brien, former Executive Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board.

A great many people from both White and Black congregations talked with me following our Friday sessions about the blessing they received by gathering for worship and fellowship together. Slavery and the countless crimes against African-Americans that grew out of it have left scares on our nation and our world. Segregation was a terrible injustice to our Black brothers and sisters and was often supported by “Christian” people. Many have rightly acknowledged that Sunday morning may still be the most segregated hour in our nation. I believe segregation was not only an injustice to our brothers and sisters; but, it was propagated at a terrible loss to our predominately White congregations. I believe we have a great deal to learn from our African-American brothers and sisters about effective ministry in our communities, engaging our people in worship, empowering leaders, and many other areas. We need the humility to acknowledge that we need each other.

We are a long way from making right the many injustices and crimes committed against our brothers and sisters. Racism and the evils it brings into our lives and communities still exists. We have a long way to go in our journey, but I was encouraged by the time of worship and sharing. I am encouraged by the signs of hope which are coming out of the New Baptist Covenant held in Atlanta earlier this year. Dr. King’s dream has not been realized, but I believe many more share the dream today than did 40 years ago. If we are serious about reaching our world for Christ, it is time for us to unite with all God’s children as we stand for justice, peace and love.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty

I am a part of an organization called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. The group was formed by the Missouri portion of "Churches Uniting in Christ." CUIC is made up of a wide variety of protestant denominations including the Africian Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church. I became a part of the organization as a representative of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Obviously, we have some differences, but we share a common passion to be advocates for the most vulnerable in our state.

Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty (MOCARP) was formed to invite other Christians to get involved in addressing racial and poverty issues in our state. Earlier this year we sponsored a Legislative Breakfast Forum with legislative leaders from the Missouri House and Senate. It was an opportunity for religious leaders to dialogue with legislative leaders about issues of tax justice and fairness. The group has also sought to be an advocate for health care for the poor and marginalized in our state. Christians should be taking the lead in advocating for racial and economic justice. Yet, some Christians advocate a dangerous type of racism. Brian Kaylor, the BGCM Communications Specialist, wrote an article for Ethics Daily about an editor for a Missouri Baptist publication, Missouri Baptist Editor Supports Confederate Flag. It is both an excellent and scary article. In his book the editor "compared the NAACP to the KKK and asserted that it was 'closer to becoming just another hate group.'" He went on to describe "slavery as 'the misfortunate of blacks' and claimed that Reconstruction actually produced greater injustices than slavery or Jim Crow laws." It is hard for me to imagine someone could call himself a Christian and have these attitudes or publish such hateful words. Check out Brian's blog at For God's Sake Shut-up.

I am grateful for the work of MOCARP and it is my hope that more Christians will get involved. At a time when Baptists from across North American are exploring a New Baptist Covenant and a new level of partnership and collaboration across racial, ethnic, national and tradition lines, other Baptists are locked in a past characterized by hatred, division, bitterness, and attack politics. I am grateful to be a part of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. We are an organization committed to working with other Baptists and other Christians as we serve our Savior and seek justice in our world.