Giving To A Vision

vision signIn the non-profit world, many people struggle with how to secure resources, namely raise money, to support their cause. Despite a ministry’s worthiness, many struggle or never reach their full stride due to inability to secure volunteer time or funding.   Why does raising money seem so daunting?  Although God is the ultimate resource provider, why do some non-profit leaders receive an outpouring of funds while others not?  Although most situations cannot be attributable to only one reason, I would propose a significant contributor is the lack of a leader’s clear, compelling, and well-communicated vision for the ministry.  I believe people are inherently generous and predisposed to give of their time and resources, if the right opportunity is presented the right way at the right time. When done right, I expect people to respond with joyful hearts and generous giving.

One of the key responsibilities of the leader is to ensure the ministry or non-profit has a powerful vision, strategy, and plan that can be effectively communicated to potential donors.  From a Biblical perspective, Christians are called by God to steward their resources and use them to invest in Kingdom opportunities.  Therefore, a responsible donor would logically expect to understand the vision, the strategy/execution plan, and how the ministry will be held accountable.  If a leader cannot article the vision and supporting details, a donor is likely to assume the resources will not be well stewarded.

When I interviewed for a full-time fundraising position at MedSend, the CEO enlightened me that those who have significant wealth feel an overwhelming burden of responsibility to give back and are actively looking for causes where their donations can make a big impact.  They want to make a significant contribution to the world and want to invest their money in a vision that is greater than paying someone’s bills.  Think about it.  What criteria do you use for giving?  Aside from tithing, people give to people not organizations, specifically to people who have visions.

If you are fundraising for a cause for which you are passionate, take the time to paint a clear and engaging picture of your vision, so you can help your donors understand how their efforts will release joy and power.  Make it big!  Stretch your dreaming! If you can create a vision that you could accomplish on your own, it is likely not from God.  God does not dream that small.

A Tale of Three Trees: It’s Not What You Think!

Have you ever bawled like a baby when reading a children’s fable?  I have!  Several years ago, as I was browsing the small bookstore at The Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas, I picked up The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale.  I guarantee you that this was no ordinary children’s story.   The tale tells of the dreams of three trees in the forest, who all long to grow into something that the world would value.  One wanted to be the most beautiful, the other the strongest, and the third the tallest.   After many years the woodcutters came to harvest these trees on the mountain.

Christ with CrossWhat these three trees wished themselves to be instead became how they were used to serve.   The purpose of each tree brought me to tears.  Can you guess how the tallest tree was used?  The third tree wanted to be the tallest tree in the land, and by some accounts this tree got what it wished for as it stood tall at Calvary with Jesus nailed to it.   This tree had one idea of its future, but God had another purpose and plan.  Despite the ugliness it endured as it co-labored with Jesus, the third tree had the opportunity to help bring Salvation to the world.  Now that’s worth both living and dying for!

We all have dreams, and the question we should ask ourselves is whether we are dreaming the right dream.  Are you pursuing your own dream or seeking to know God’s dream for your life?  Sometimes God’s dream for your life will take you through ugliness, harshness, and cruelty such as what Jesus experienced on the cross?  Much of the time you will never be made aware of the impact you are making and must maintain faith that God is using each faithful word and action for Kingdom impact.  On those seemingly rare occasions when I do get feedback, I find those are the fuel that keep me seeking the Lord’s will for my life.

God’s Promises

Bible to HeavenThere are days when we need the simple reminders of God’s promises to His children.


He has a purpose and great plan for your life

In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28


With Him, your future is bright and the best is yet to be

“For I know that plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “…plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11


You have everything you need to do all He’s created you to do

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13


God created you with strengths and gifts to offer this world

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14


He loves you and will be with you wherever you go

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.

Hebrews 13:5


With God by your side and Jesus in your heart, go change the world!

Church-as-Business: Visioning, Missioning, and Equipping

Many pastors, missionaries, and laymen understand the Kingdom power held in the relationships of church-on-mission or business-as-mission.  However, many fail to acknowledge the power that can be unleashed when churches embrace the concept of church-as-business.  In fact, the concept that a church would be run like a business may feel unnatural, uncomfortable, and even sacrilegious to some pastoral heads and laymen.

wcom-emblem-2016-11-03People love church-on-mission, because the idea gives them a warm, fuzzy and satisfying feeling of doing good, being charitable, and aligning with the mission of the Gospel.   Most Christians think of mission as helping people in need, servicing the poor, making disciples, showing Jesus’s love, and preaching the Bible.  The concept of mission conjures up serving locally or through short-term mission trips across the globe.   Churches readily partner with missionaries, providing regular financial and prayer support to people who are called into full-time mission.  Churches extend their congregations’ reach by investing in those who are called to be the hands and feet on the ground.

In more recent times, the concept of business-as-mission has grown in awareness and popularity, as churches realize the Kingdom impact of helping third-world families and leaders develop sustainable businesses that bring economic health to impoverished communities.  The goal is to give someone a hand-up versus a hand-out—give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life.  Therefore, churches are sending teams into third-world countries to teach business skills and sometimes providing micro-loans with the hope of helping men and women start or improve their business acumen, build sound business plans, and grow their enterprises.

Church-as-business provides a third, yet important side of the triangle—a side that has been overlooked and missing from many churches.  Inclusion of church-as-business can propel church growth.  Why the general taboo in thinking of churches operating as businesses?  I have only theories.  One theory reasons that with most pastors and church administration educated in theology—not business, marketing, operations, and finance—they lack knowledge or exposure to understand the value of business principles at play within the church.  Another theory, is the cultural taboo associated with church and business—people should not talk about religion in the workplace, so perhaps the backlash is they do not talk or associate business with church.   A third theory is the preconceived ideology that church and business are compartmentalized enterprises with nothing in common.   Faith followers operate in businesses Monday through Friday, sometimes on Saturday, and Sunday is reserved for church service and other religious and social activities.  Our culture supports the separation of church and business based on old Biblical standards such as honoring the Sabbath, Blue laws and practices of not talking about religion at the workplace.

I contend that churches and businesses have more similarities in how they work and what they want to achieve than people may initially want to admit.  If my argument rings of any truth, churches can flourish by embracing many of the best practices identified, deployed, and further refined by businesses.  Although the product manufactured by a church may be different than a business, the strategy and processes are fundamentally the same.  With churches commissioned to grow disciples and businesses chartered to increase revenue/profit, churches can learn best practices in new business development from successful businesses.

For those who are not yet convinced that churches can learn from the business world, the table below defines the structural and operating elements which are unarguably similar between them with the only significant difference their output.

Focus Area Church Business
Enterprise Purpose Grow disciples Grow revenue/profit
Human Capital Members/Pastors Employees/Management
Compensation Salary/Bonus/Reward Paycheck/Bonus/Incentive
On-boarding Process Membership Classes Employee Orientation/Training
Human Capital Deployment Service/Discipling Job Responsibilities
Finances Tithing/Expenses Sales/Expenses
Infrastructure Church Facilities Offices/Plants/Warehouses
Consumers Community Members Customers
Marketing Sermon Series/Missions New Products and Offerings

Do you see the similarities in the building blocks and processes between a church and business?  Many churches, just like businesses, grow and then lose traction, slow down, and in some cases, go bankrupt.  Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Rainer, 2014) estimated that healthy churches account for only 10% of the church population, 10% are dying, and 80% are sick or very sick.   Rainer (2014) studied churches to uncover what makes certain ones thrive and what are some signs that a church is sick or dying.   Key signs of sickness include a congregation’s attitude that the best days are past, decline in worship attendance and tithing, programs and ministries which focus on members rather than outside the church, and no true sense of disciple-making.  Busyness and activity replaces meaningful purpose.  With these sobering statistics, I would expect a church to have an on-going self-evaluation process and focus on implementing best practices.

Don’t these key signs of sickness sound familiar to when a business struggles? Employees adopt a bad attitude, unmotivated employees frequently call in sick, management becomes increasingly focused on retaining employees with programs and rewards to the detriment of its customers. Employees lose focus on the business purpose and in cultivating customers. Businesses grow through innovation and a customer focus through knowledgeable, aligned, and motivated employees who understand and believe in the business vision and purpose.  They know their role in the organization and how they contribute to the goals.  Churches attract members when they focus on serving others, making disciples, and living out the mission of the church.

On the other hand, businesses suffer as customers leave and take their purchasing-power elsewhere; churches suffer when members take their tithe money and time to another church or at worst use it for personal consumption.  In the business world, studies run the gambit in identifying and quantifying the impact of best practices.  What can churches learn about best practices from these business studies? Although an internet search would likely provide handfuls of articles on best practices, I have my own list cultivated from my more than 30 years working and developing new product lines and businesses.

Leadership cannot lead unless they can define and clearly articulate for its employees and members the purpose and direction they plan to take the company or church.   First, leadership must develop a vision and mission statement as well as define the operating values that support the purpose of the church.   The vision must be detailed enough that it differentiates itself from other churches and provides a clear sense of direction for its members.  On the other hand, the vision must not be too specific that the boundaries constrain how God wants to empower and use its members.  Just as God designed individuals with specific spiritual gifts, so too has God breathed life and gifts into various churches to accomplish a purpose.  In my opinion, the weakest mission statements are those which are “motherhood and apple pie,” which deliver a feel-good message that no one can argue with and which appeals to everyone who passes through its doors.  An example would be “Making disciplines who are making disciples.” No one would disagree that should be a job assignment of every Christ-follower.  However, I expect with this vision many members would not feel equipped or understand how they will achieve that mission.  They do not even understand how they will know if the church is achieving its mission.  With so many questions, people feel left to their own devices and at worst never become truly engaged in the church’s vision, just taking from the church what satisfies their curiosity and spiritual need.

The vision and mission are critically important so people can make an informed decision to join the church, because that vision/mission resonates with them.  The church should set an expectation that all are welcome where they stand and will grow spiritually by supporting the defined vision and mission.  All churches cannot be all things to all people.   Better for a church, which is functionally its members, to define how God has called them to serve in this fallen world.  Churches are most effective when they can define what fits and what does not.  The vision/mission becomes the referee on how they will direct their resources when bombarded with endless opportunities and demands. What would be a solid and compelling vision and mission statement for a church?  If I had to describe what I would be most attracted to as a Christ-follower, below is what I would be called to join.

Vision

Build a transforming Christian army to love the world as Christ loves all

Mission

Coach leaders to crush their limiting beliefs, love who they are, and discover their identity in Christ.  This mission will be accomplished through the following:

  • Self-exploring to identify lies that are holding back personal identity and service and replace with the truth
  • Driving on world service in ways that show Jesus’s love to others and honors personal spiritual gifts and talents
  • Meeting people whether they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to purse Christ as their personal savior
  • Developing and encouraging future world changes to organize and move out in service

 

The above vision/mission is detailed, yet flexible enough to move in many directions.  Visitors would have a clear understanding of what the church stands for, how it operates, what they could expect from the church in terms of support, and what would be required of them.   Hopefully, it would inspire versus confuse them!

The second most important church practice is to assimilate its members who are the human capital that fuels the outreach in the community and grows the church.   Many churches have a bunch of social and crisis-intervention programs for the congregation that attracts membership.  Caution!  All these services can be beneficial to support the rough spots in the lives of its members as well as attract others to Christ in the process, but leadership must be canvasing the landscape to ensure a healthy balance of services with their mission.   An imbalance can be a sign of a sick church.

Many churches host membership classes for those who are interested in learning more about the church or becoming members.  These classes typically provide a history of the church, explain what it is doing in its community, ask one to be part of the church, and then want to sign one up to a life or small group.  I believe a more sustainable method of attracting members is to provide the full landscape and plan, explain what the church expects of its members, and then explain how the church will partner with them to contribute.  Share the story that they are part of the story to create change and make an impact!  However, the message cannot be held at a high level.  Sell the story with enough granularity that they can see themselves as part of the team or solution.  Once they see themselves part of something bigger than themselves, the church can equip them or convince them they are equipped for action.  When people feel part of a mission bigger than themselves and buy in emotionally, their resources of time and money will follow.  Their excitement builds.

Many churches may successfully develop their vision, mission, and values, but fail to equip the congregation.  As in business, many strategies have been dead-on best in class, but the execution fell apart, and management blamed the strategy for failure.  Churches are not immune from the same malady.  Visioning and missioning is tough but relatively much easier than execution.  Visioning takes a finite amount of time and culminates in a final statement—it has an end; whereas, execution is an on-going fight for growth.  The process is fundamentally endless, and leadership may tire in trying to keep the execution ball moving forward towards the pins without it going into the side-gutters.

Many pastors preach from the pulpit on what is required by the congregation to meet its vision and mission.  First, there are requests, then more forceful pleas.  No one in the congregation disagrees, but they fail to act.  Using the former mission statement example of Disciples making disciples, everyone would agree that is an important vision for any Christian church, yet despite the pastor’s encouragement, the majority sitting in the pews feel ill-equipped to have conversation with non-Christians about their faith and Jesus. This post-modern world does not provide an environment conducive to Christians sharing the Good News with non-believers.  Most Christians are uncomfortable discussing their faith even if it means the church body does not grow (Rainer, 2014). Carter (2012) found that despite 80% of Christians feeling sufficiently knowledgeable to communicate their faith and believing they have a personal responsibility to share the Gospel, more than 60% have not shared the Gospel even once with a non-believer in the previous six months. Some have never shared their faith. These studies make the case that churches need to empower their members (employees) and provide tools, ideas, and perspectives that allow them to be more comfortable in talking about their faith and overcoming the barriers of inaction. Soul Whisperer (Comer, 2013) is a must-read for the current age.  Comer’s (2013) message breaks the long-held paradigms of evangelism and introduces more relevant coaching for Christians to share the Good News. Build a relationship, start where they are and not where you are, read what they need, and show them how God is helping you now, are all powerful ways to share the Gospel.

In addition to discipleship, members can grow in their spiritual walk by serving others. When someone asks me, “How can I find myself,” I have one and only one answer.  “Go serve.  You will find yourself in serving.”  Therefore, churches should have a variety of outlets for service.  By service, I do not necessarily mean greeter, parking guide, worship and service child provider.  Although these are important functions and membership needs to help with these services, the church should have service opportunities outside of the church that are aligned with the vision and mission.  These options should focus at a minimum within the local community, because this is the source of your new membership.  However, if the church’s mission supports a cause such as sex-trafficking or orphan care, the outreach opportunities should have no boundaries.

Does the church offer members a spiritual gift inventory?   Are there opportunities for members to apply them?  As the church grows, leadership should empower individuals and teams to carry the torch on various initiatives—similar in how businesses launch project teams with internal sponsorship oversight.  Success stories should be shared from the pulpit as a means of stimulating the quest for service.   Members are the lifeblood of the church, they are the church, and empowering them in a way to bring in new members by serving in their communities and sharing the Gospel is what the church should focus on.  Do we need another sermon from the pulpit to add to our knowledge or just encouragement to learn Jesus through serving?  Too many times I have heard, “Just one more Bible study and I’ll be ready to serve.”    We are all equipped to serve in one way or another exactly where we stand.   Our stories of service are our most powerful tools and what we use to harvest and feed ourselves.  Instead of being a spectator in the pew, be a world changer in the field.

Next, I will discuss my business thoughts in building a personal church brand and marketing.

References

Carter, J. (2012). Study: Most churchgoers never share the gospel. The Gospel Connection. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/study-most-churchgoers-never-share-the-gospel

Comer, G. (2013). Soul whisperer: Why the church must change the way it views evangelism. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications. ISBN: 978-1-62032-183-6.

Rainer, T. S. (2014). Autopsy of a deceased church: Twelve ways to keep yours alive. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing.  ISBN: 978-1-4336-8392-3.

World Changers on Mission


Excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador mission journal (October 22, 2016)


I am writing my last entry before our team departs for El Salvador.  God has been stirring up a lot of imagery and concepts with me these past couple of weeks.  In early October while enjoying a few margaritas and Mexican flavors with Matt and Holly Smith, I shared our calling to launch a group of people who would meet on a regular basis with the sole purpose of supporting each other as each moves out into his/her mission field.  Six months ago, Darin and I left our life group, because we wanted to use the time for service as well as to shinecrossings_textbasedlogoexplore a concept that God was placing on our hearts.  We desired to launch a group (unknown what it would be called then) whose sole purpose would be for missional living and outreach.  As Darin and I continued to focus on developing short-term mission trips to Kenya and El Salvador and serving in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and marriage/premarital ministry, this concept took a back burner.  However, on October 7th, Matt and Holly challenged us to launch it, and excitedly said they wanted in.  That night, as Darin and I laid in bed, I told him I thought God was telling us it was time!  God’s message was coming through the spoken words of Matt and Holly.  At that moment I committed to develop the program before we left for El Salvador to take the team to drill a well and do pump repair.  Because God placed this initiative on our hearts, the details flowed as I put thought to paper.  Shine Crossings will be launching World Changers on Mission (WCoM) whose inspirational Scripture is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).

The World Changers Vision

Build a transforming Christian army to love the world as Christ loves all

The World Changers Mission Statement

  • Coach leaders to crush their limiting beliefs, love who they are, and discover their identity in Christ
  • This mission will be accomplished through the following goals:
    • Self-exploring to identify lies that are holding back personal identity and service and replace with the truth
    • Driving on world service in ways that show Jesus’s love to others and which honor personal spiritual gifts and talents
    • Meeting people where they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to pursue Christ as their personal savior
    • Developing and encouraging future world changers to organize and move out in service

For those who want to learn more about this initiative, I have developed a simple PowerPoint that provides more explanation and detail.  Email me if you are interested in receiving more information.   Because I know how God works, I cannot help but wonder how this mission trip will impact or further develop the concept of World Changers on Mission.

I am reminded of TD Jakes’ message from the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in which he said that if you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough.  World Changers on Mission (WCoM) may have been birthed by Darin and me through God’s planting of a mustard seed in fertile soil, but WCoM is about empowering everyone to move in their purpose.  TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, has some incredibly powerful quotes which I share for thought-provoking action:

  • “Don’t stop at where you are as if it were the destination, when in fact, in reality, it may be the transportation that brings you into that thing you were created to do.”
  • “Everything you’ve gone through is preparation for what’s about to happen in your life. The Lord has already given you a word, move!”
  • “We need to be who we were called to be instead of contorting ourselves into what other people want us to be!”
  • “It is time for us to find the thing we were created to do, the people we were meant to affect, and the power that comes from alignment with purpose.”
  • “Here is the problem with how many people approach the question of purpose: many are looking outside of themselves for their purpose, destiny, or meaning in life. The very key to knowing your purpose is discovering and celebrating your personal identity.”
  • “God is about to plant you in a big thing. Your eyes have not seen, your ears have not heard, neither has entered into your heart what God has in store for you!”
  • “If we are called to be the salt of the earth, we have to get out of the saltshaker. Get out of your comfort zone, enlarge your territory.”
  • “Your Passion is your conviction about it, your Purpose is why you do it, your Destiny is where.”
  • “At any age you can still ignite your passion through finding your purpose.”
  • “When you know your purpose, you know what isn’t your purpose, so you can stop being distracted trying to do something that is not in the wheelhouse of what you were designed to do!”

All of TD Jakes’ (www.tdjakes.com) key messages are foundational to what WCoM embodies.  So, what field is God calling you into?

Mission, It’s Not What You Think…

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I travel the world and in my community carrying my self-identity in missional living.  Back in February 2016 my husband and I returned from Nairobi, Kenya from a business-as-mission themed short-term trip developed between my home church, Northisde Christian (NCC),  the local church, Redeemed Gospel Church (RGC), and a non-profit Transformational Ventures (TV).   Below is my final journal entry where I shared what God revealed to me in my walk with him during my time in the slums of Nairobi.    My Chapter 3 as mentioned below has been written in the documentary Poverty, Inc.*  The message hit me upside the head as hard as a two-by-four.  After being stunned and finally picking myself up off the floor, I am processing the message in how it continues to break my paradigms about missional living and my role in developmental mission.  Stay tuned for my next blog where I unfold my Chapter 3 and response.  This entry provides perspective…

* Poverty, Inc. available for viewing on Netflix

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Over the past 10 days I have rejoined my normal world.  The re-entry process for every mission journey is unique, because it is a time of reflection and consideration of next steps based on experiences that challenge my thinking.  Although I am fairly experienced at international mission journeys, I desire to understand what God wants to show me on any journey.  God has a purpose, and I seek to understand his message and what I am to learn and do.

So spending time in my journal and reviewing all the photos and videos we took of our journey together, some of the themes that keep coming to mind are:

  • Power of partnership, especially with dignity
  • Relationships, not necessarily business
  • Transforming lives

As I dig deeper in thought what rises to the surface is the “Power of Partnership to Transform Lives” through dignity and not charity.  The words power, partnership, transform, dignity and charity will all have slightly different meanings to the reader depending on the filter by which each word is read.  All 6 words by themselves are positioned for misinterpretation, so string them all together into one phrase, and I fear the concept may get messy!    What does she mean by the “Power of Partnership to Transform Lives?”

I believe Redeemed Gospel Church (RGC) and Northside Christian Church (NCC) can be partners to transform lives both spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.  When two organizations come together for a common goal, many people refer to the union as a partnership.  When I refer to a union, I am careful to delineate the difference between a partnership and a relationship.  A partnership brings two entities together that have a long-term vision, are joined through thick and thin, pool resources, hold each other accountable and are each valued by the other in what they can bring to the partnership. Upon closer examination many churches or non-profit partnerships have some of the above elements but not all.  When one organization believes it provides more value than the other joining organization, the unspoken word is charity.  For lack of a better descriptor, the dominant partner perceives it is giving away some of its value (charity) to combine into one entity. There may be a reasonable driver for this type of union, but I would not call it a partnership under those circumstances.  In typical business merger and acquisition, a fair price or equity position is negotiated for the value each company may bring to a joint venture or merger.

Well placed charity is a blessing!  Northside financially blesses many initiatives or mission outreaches that align with their vision, mission, and goals.  Northside and RGC have a long standing relationship where Northside has brought money and people to help drill a water well on the property, put a new roof on the church, etc.   Transformational Ventures has invested time and resources in helping the RGC leadership personally and organizationally.  I am sure Northside will continue financial support, because they believe in what the church is trying to accomplish.   All this is a blessing for the giver and receiver!  As RGC, Northside and Transformational Ventures continue to make progress in its aligned goals, the word partnership seems to be mouthed more frequently.  I challenge those who are speaking “partnership” to define and describe what that truly means in action.  What does that look, taste and feel like tangibly?

I truly believe that RGC and Northside can be true partners in the way that I have suggested partnership, but first, both churches have to get real with what they each can and will bring to the table in the partnership.  No one way contribution—charity, but two way contribution—dignity.  I know this is a paradigm shift in thinking.  What will RGC contribute?  I’m not suggesting material resources that they don’t have?  I would suggest they can help our church learn how to culturally embrace what it means to love God (worship), to love others (service and tithing), and to make disciplines of disciplines (how to spread the Gospel).  Not sure we do as good a job on these endeavors as RGC.  Maybe they can mentor us in a partnership?  Share their best practices?

Pastor Brown and Pastor Dave are the men who will eventually decide whether RGC and Northside will truly partner by pooling their talents and resources.  God has no boundaries and neither should we.  If together NCC and RGC can save a 1,000 souls this year, does it matter whether they are in Africa or America or any combination of the two?

In summary, God has a reason for every mission journey, a message for every individual who chooses to venture into the field and for every person who meets the missionary.  As Mohamed so purposefully said, “It wasn’t an accident; God brought us together.” I also believe when you live missionally and live out your purpose, God will reveal a bigger story over your lifetime.  One mission journey may only be a chapter in a 1,000-page novel, but it may feel like you just devoured the whole book.

I believe this second trip to Kenya was another chapter in a book God wants me to read.  These first chapters of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel are setting my foundation, teaching me, challenging my thoughts, and shaping my views.  My first chapter, which was my first trip to Kenya with Woodlands Church, was about understanding and experiencing good developmental mission.  I continue to practice developmental mission in my daily life through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) to keep me sharpened in this area.

God had me read the second chapter of my novel when he took me to Kenya on this trip.  He defined for me what true partnership has to embody for long-term sustainability—dignity!  Dignity not just in actions but in heart/mind belief!  People can act with dignity, but if the heart/mind is not aligned on dignity the partnership is reduced to a relationship. There is power in partnership to transform lives.

As I finish chapter 2, I am anticipating chapter 3, yet I don’t know where chapter 3 is yet.  Where can I get a copy?  I don’t know.  Is chapter 3 another foundational learning or am I going to get to practice and take action?   I have so many unanswered questions for the future.  Guess you could call this a cliffhanger.  As soon as I find that third chapter I’ll let you know!

To Judge or Not to Judge?

cropped-shinecrossings_mainlogo.pngWho likes to judge or be the judge?  How often do you find yourself judging?  To whatever frequency you just admitted, I bet if you thoughtfully played back those daily rituals in your mind, you would surprise yourself in how much more judging you do than first thought.  You probably judge the taste of your cup of java (“ah, so good” or “ugh, that’s bitter”), your reflection back in the morning mirror (“yikes, look at those bags and dark circles under my eyes”), and those other drivers on the road (“pay attention, what an idiot”).  What are some of your thoughts when you arrive at work?  How about the casual assessment of your colleague’s work (“that sucks, he should have been fired a long time ago”), the choice of your coworker’s attire (“what was she thinking”), and how about the leadership of your boss (“I could do better with half a brain”).   Some of these judgments may be extreme, but you have to admit not uncommon.  As humans we are so quick to judge without much thought, as if our judgment is fed from our five senses fueling our emotions which override our thinking brain, and in some cases, just barely stops at the tip of our tongues.  How did it hear, look, taste, smell and feel?  Did our ability to make quick judgment stem from our humanistic need for survival—the ability to make a quick threat assessment and spring into action to protect ourselves and ensure our safety.  God made humans with this beautiful part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex” which gives us some incredible abilities that surpass all other living creatures on earth.  Our pre-frontal cortex gifts us with the ability not to act on impulse or innate reflexes but to use reason and logic in assessing our living situations.  So why don’t we seem use it more?  Why is it so easy for us to pass judgment with hardly giving it a second thought?  Could it be that we have not been burned badly enough by our quick conclusions to exert more cortex capacity?  Humans can be conditioned!

So what does it feel like to be judged?  When I ask this question, I am sure you can immediately conjure up a few examples that bring a twinge of pain even today after many years.  Are you having a bit of an emotional rise?  Unpleasant at best, maybe a bit angry at worst.   As you dwell on some of these painful memories, some thoughts you may have are “but I just didn’t have a choice,” “I was young, stupid and didn’t get any slack,” and “if only they could walk in my shoes they would understand why I did what I did.”  You may be right.  If I walked in your shoes at that moment, I may have done exactly what you did and have more compassion for you today.   You were judged, convicted and sentenced!  Welcome to prison!  You may not be incarcerated, but you are still a prisoner in your own mind.  You cannot erase that memory or pain of how you were judged.  Perhaps you feel you served your sentence by making amends, but why does it feel like the punishment is still life imprisonment?   Being on the receiving end of judgment can be painful and leave scars for a lifetime.  So if we can agree that being judged is unpleasant at best, why do we continue to give out what we hate to receive?

Let me clarify one point that typically comes into the discussion on judgment.  Many people use discernment and judgment interchangeably, especially in the Christian world.  Aren’t those the same?  Not exactly.  Discernment assesses value and typically leads to action whereas judgment just labels.  Discernment is wisdom and understanding whereas judgment is an assessment of right or wrong, good versus bad.  You can have discernment that a situation is unsafe, then take appropriate action to ensure your safety.  Judgment would describe a situation as unsafe but not necessarily imply action.  As humans we need discernment, but judgment does not serve ourselves or others as well.  Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Not true!  Hurtful, judgmental words cut deeper than any knife could, and many of those internal wounds may never heal.  How many kids on the playground may have shouted those words in return to judgmental statements such as “You can’t hit the ball.  I don’t want you on my team,” or  “You’re wearing flood pants, did you borrow them from your baby brother?” Yes, I was a victim then.  I now know that those cruel words left the mouth of babes because their immature pre-frontal cortex, yet you know, as  a teacher supervising that playground, you might have thought those same words.  Of course, you kept your mouth shut. If everyone understood the eternal, faithful love that God has for us, no one would be able to hurt us with words or actions, because we would understand that our identity and self-worth only reside in our loving God.  Unfortunately, we do not live in this perfect world; therefore, work, possessions and human relationships have a heavy influence on people’s sense of self-worth and ability to feel loved and valued.

I will stipulate that judgment and subsequent consequences are completely appropriate and necessary in our law system.  However, I will be honest that my heart breaks for those who have made mistakes, served their prison sentence, but have walls to climb in order to integrate back into community despite their deep desire to contribute to society.  In the best of circumstances, think about those adults who have been convicted of a minor “F”elony, never harmed another individual, and only served probation.  I have one of those friends who was convicted of drug possession, sentenced to probation for his first offense, but has to wear the “F” on his shirt like a scarlet letter.  With his felony status he cannot live in any apartment complex, has few job opportunities, and is constantly judged unworthy.  He is trying to do better but the system and community are both intentionally and unintentionally working against him.  Sometimes the difference between a felony is only one person getting caught and the other not.   We are all human, have weakness and possible addictions.  Maybe he had too much dependence on marijuana which got him into trouble. Addiction is addiction and can manifest itself differently with each individual.  Hoarding, alcohol, food, spending money, exercise and pornography can all become addictions if the behavior is taken to extreme, yet we typically judge people who have these additions differently.  Why?  Because those addictions happen to be legal, whereas in most states marijuana is still illegal.

Can we not have more compassion for those who are trying to help themselves in the moment?  Can we stop labeling people as good or bad and start labeling people as hurt and in need or healthy and blessed?  My heart hurts for those who are suffering under the heavy weight of judgment.  I cannot change the world, but I can call it out with the hope that people will have greater pause and hopefully more awareness of their judgment.  Instead of judging, why not lend a helping hand, or extend a kind word or gesture.  Lift a human brother or sister up with words of affirmation versus tearing them down.  But you may say, “I don’t say anything.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  My thoughts can’t hurt anyone.”  I would disagree; those negative thoughts are carried in your body language and manifest themselves in choices of behavior towards others whether you are conscious of it or not.

And for those of you who made it to this point and thought, “Isn’t she judging?”  My reply is, “Yes I am! I admit it. I’m judging with a purpose.”   Am I suggesting that as humans we will suspend all judgment?  Of course not, we all fall short of perfection.  As sinners we can only challenge ourselves to do better!  We should take the plank out of our own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s, as our own sin blinds us to the truth of the situation.  My hope is you will be more thoughtful every time you catch yourself judging.   Might this be one of those times where you make a different assessment or choice and change a life with words of encouragement or actions of a loving hand up?  I pray that you do!  I leave you with this final thought:  Your judgment may say more about you than it does about the person you judge!