Category Archives: Leadership

Making conversation // I didn’t know how!

998524_tranquility_4I have always found it hard to talk to people that I don’t know well, and more specifically to initiate a conversation. This difficulty is multiplied when there are strangers involved, either in a social, or work situation, or in a completely random encounter at a shopping mall or on a plane.
I think this is probably because I am reasonably shy, and  part of it has been because of my introvert tendencies and not wanting to engage in meaningless conversation for the sake of filling in a moment of silence.

Why bother having conversations?
As I discussed in my earlier introversion posts <you can find them here> I believe that we humans are purpose-built for community and connection with other people. Conversation allows us to make these connections, to learn from other people, to be enriched, to be encouraged, to influence, to encourage others, to minister, to provide comfort, to develop relationships.

For years I avoided making conversation and making these connections. Over time I forgot how to do it, until I was rescued by my friend Andrew who attended a Caleb Ministries training course and learned about the conversation stack, which is a very simple system for initiating and developing conversations. Andrew’s a great, natural conversationalist anyway, but he knew I’d benefit from it, so he shared this tool with me and as I’ve experimented with the conversation stack over the past couple of years, I have learned a secret…people love to talk about themselves or about things that they are interested in. If I can get people talking about themselves, it takes the pressure of me and I don’t have to talk so much.

Here’s the stack (For most general conversations I rarely get past the tennis racquet.). The left column is what you can picture in your mind to remind you of what’s coming next, the right column is the basic question to ask (you’ll need to modify it to your own style otherwise you’ll sound like you’re working through a list…you want it to feel natural, take some time to practice on your family and friends if you like.)
NAMEPLATE                            What is your name?
HOUSE                                         Where do you live?
PEOPLE IN HOUSE                  Do you have family?
CLOCK                                         What do you do with your time?
AEROPLANE                             Travel?
TENNIS RACQUET                  Hobbies? Sports?
LIGHT BULB                              Ideas, points to bounce off
GOAL POSTS                              Do you have goals, dreams?
QUESTION MARK                    Problems? Frustrations? Concerns?
TROPHY                                       Achievements?
SUNSET                                        Inspirational people?

Here are a couple of points to remember when you’re using the conversation stack:

Respond, don’t interrogate:: Don’t just ask lots of questions and don’t get creepy…you’ll come off like you’re interrogating the person and they will more likely than not become defensive and clam up, defeating the purpose of using these kick-off questions. Respond to what the person shares, interact. Share about yourself a little.

Open ended questions :: Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask questions that require an answer that will allow the person to elaborate about their answer, and provide you with material to ask follow on questions.

Listen:: Don’t sit there thinking of your next brilliant contribution to the conversation. Really listen. Look out for gems, or places where your stories can intersect and you can connect.

No agendas:: Don’t go into any conversation with preconceived ideas of what the outcome will be. If the person thinks they are being manipulated they will shut down.

Don’t force it:: If they don’t want to talk…move on. Some people just really don’t want to talk (I’m betting you know how that is LOL)…don’t force them to.

I’ve found this system so helpful in getting past the awkward small talk that can plague so many social situations. I hope it helps you too.

Have you ever used a conversation stack? How does it work for you? Are you a natural conversationalist? Do you have to work at it like I do?

What is Sabbath for? // Restoration

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If my private world is in order it will be because I have chosen to press Sabbath peace into the rush and routine of daily life in order to find the rest God prescribed for Himself and all of humanity.

– Gordon MacDonald

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to get into the rhythm of the merry-go-round of life and operate on autopilot. I am just focussed on making it through the work week, then making it though the things that need to be done around the house on the weekends, I fall in a heap on the couch half way through Sunday afternoon and sit there like a blob, desperately trying to “relax” before Monday morning rolls around, and then when it does…I wake up tired and apathetic and just as worn out as I was on Friday afternoon after a week of work.

I have discovered over the years that if I don’t make a conscious decision to do anything differently, I continue on this cycle until I crash and burn.

Our society, and dare I say many of our churches, are focussed on “doing” and “achieving”. Unless you’re crazy busy, you’re not doing it right. We need to remember that our value does not come from what we achieve or what we acquire. Our value comes from who we are, from our position as adopted sons and daughters of God. I believe that we really need to guard against workaholism, because ultimately being a workaholic is potentially damaging both to your personal health and to your family relationships. The problem is that it is really hard to go against this culture, but I’m beginning to see that the benefits of being intentional about observing the Sabbath far outweigh the blank stares and outright sneers of those who do not see the need.

I believe that the Sabbath needs to be made up of a balanced combination of both leisure time and biblical/godly rest.

Leisure time and activities are like the lollies of life. You only need a little bit in order to remain healthy. Leisure time and doing fun things is great, and they give you a quick little pickup from time to time in terms of bringing serenity to your inner world…but it is really not enough to sustain you in the long run. It’s a quick hit of energy, like a chocolate bar, but like that chocolate bar, there’s a low after. Leisure time, while it’s nice to have, and definitely required; doesn’t really provide the long term, sustaining nourishment that our inner world requires.

We need godly rest as well as leisure time. God was the first one to have rested and you can read about that in Genesis at the end of the creation account, and again in Exodus 31:17 where Moses talks about God resting and being refreshed. The Israelites were commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy as part of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20) which were essentially a set of guidelines to teach them how to live in community again. They had just been set free from a life of slavery where their every waking moment was dictated by someone else — that was all they knew — and they needed some instruction. God was teaching them the best way to live; He wasn’t giving them a set of rules for the sake of it. It’s for that reason I believe that having a day set aside to focus is a legitimate biblical principle for us to observe as modern followers of Jesus. We have been set free from the slavery of sin and need to learn to live in community with other believers. For me, the parallel is obvious.

This rest lets us sort through all of the thousands of pieces of information that bombard us each week and weed out the things that aren’t aligned with the truths and principles that we live by. And the thing about humans is that if we are not intentional about doing this refocussing activity we are prone to drift away from God. Godly rest allows us to be tough and resilient if we have laser focus on our life’s purpose.

Our soul-deep tiredness can only be overcome by catching a fresh vision of the purpose that God has for our lives. If you have the space in your life where you can do that on a daily basis…I am deeply jealous! But for me, I need to intentionally stop the routines of my daily life and give special attention to this refocussing and reconnecting with God’s vision for my life. Taking a Sabbath day is how I do that.

So what does this look like on the ground for me? Before I go on I want to say that Sabbath activities will be different for everyone. For example, many church workers take a week day as their Sabbath, and for parents of very young children it may be an hour once a week.

As I mentioned in the first post, I’m in the development phase for this spiritual discipline, but at the moment my Sabbath day consists of:

  • worship — prayer, bible reading, singing and playing music, drawing, meditation etc.
  • connecting with other believers— whether that be at a physical church or an on line one or through another form of community gathering.
  • weekly review— closing all the open loops, refocussing on purpose and direction (see GTD for more information on this one).
  • journalling — examining what has happened in the week just gone and looking for God’s hand, pausing and asking myself questions about what my life means, working through any issues that need to be dealt with.
  • time with my family — Sabbath was instigated at the time of creation just as the first family was initiated at the time of creation…I’d like to think they are related…and even if they’re not, my family is my primary ministry and part of my purpose in life.
  • physical exercise — I need to renovate my temple, I see this as an act of worship too.
  • relaxation — being an introvert I need a good amount of alone time to restore balance.

For this one day of the week I put aside my regular routine (I have a highly regimented weekly routine in order to get everything done as a full-time worker and mother) and go with the flow of what God has for me. This disruption to my regular programming is like hitting the reset button, and even though it may look like there’s a lot on that list, they are all things that are designed to soothe my soul and refocus me for the week ahead. I’ll talk more about the preparation aspect of Sabbath in the next installment.

Sabbath is no longer a guilt-laden legal requirement. Nor is choosing to observe the Sabbath an excuse to live however you choose during the other six days…all of life is “christian activity” there can be no separation between spiritual and secular. Sabbath is a gift that God is offering. A gift of refreshing and restoration. He personally demonstrated this better way to do life, as any good leader does if He intends his people to follow. If it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me. Where He leads I will follow.

What are your thoughts. Do you observe a Sabbath day? How do you intentionally refocus on what God wants for you?

Michelle

Risk analysis

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This post is part of my adventure series…click here to make sure you catch the whole series.

Asking myself all of these questions about who I am…and why I do what I do…and why I believe what I do…is a scary thing to do. More times than I can count, I have stared at the ceiling at three in the morning  wishing that I didn’t think as much as I do. Thinking perhaps that it would be easier all round if I shoved the stuff whizzing around in my head back under a rock and continued on to have a safe and quiet life that involved going to church on Sunday, working hard and enjoying my family.

But what am I afraid of? What are some of the things that I am likely to face and have to decide…will I fight or will I take flight? Here are some of the things that have the potential to derail my adventure if I choose to keep going:

  • spiritual opposition
  • people not understanding and thinking that I’ve lost the plot (I’m a recovering people pleaser)
  • that I will lose friends
  • that I might be asked to make sacrifices that will be too hard
  • that I’ll be required to do something really difficult
  • that I might take a wrong turn and end up at a dead end
  • that my life may be transformed to the point where it’s almost unrecognisable.

So what could happen if I don’t take a risk and jump into this adventure and give it a red hot go?

  • I would have a quiet, safe, controllable life
  • I would miss out on fulfilling my life’s purpose
  • I’d have to explain myself at the end of my days when I have to stand before my Creator and give account for my life.

Is it worth the risk to go on this adventure? If I am to have a victorious and exciting life following Jesus…I can’t afford not to go on the adventure set before me! I don’t want to be safe! Jesus wasn’t safe…he was a rebel, a stirrer, a risk taker! I MUST follow his lead! When I am faced with the things that frighten me I will need to keep my eyes on the goal and trust that I am on this adventure because God wants me there.

Over the past couple of months God has whispered in my ear over and over again…What I have planned for you is so much better than you can ever imagine! I have a pretty good imagination, so I’m excited at the possibilities!

What risks are you willing to take to do as God asks? Do you like to take risks? Or do you avoid taking risks at all costs? Have you taken any risks for God? Share your stories!

Michelle

If you want to see all of the posts about my adventure click here.

The realignment phase

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This post is part of my adventure series…click here to make sure you catch the whole series.

This is the part where I need to make sure I am aligned with what God wants for my life. I want to strip my belief system right back to the fundamentals and make sure the “skeleton” is all aligned…sort of like taking a trip to the chiropractor I guess. In the same way that the skeleton is the foundation for keeping the rest of the body in shape, so my belief system is what keeps the intangible parts of my life in shape and on the right track. There’s no point hitting the gym to build up my “muscles” if my skeleton isn’t up to the task of supporting the extra stuff that I’m adding to it. I’ll end up hurting myself! 🙂

So…I’ll be asking myself all sorts of questions like these ones…

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Why do I act the way I do as a follower of Jesus?
  • What if the way I’m doing things isn’t the way God intended it to be? What if I’ve turned someone off God because I’m not living the way I’m supposed to?
  • What if some of the things that I hold to as truth are just traditions and not really biblical truth?
  • What if there’s something else I should be doing with my life that would be more effective in making God’s love real to people?
  • How do I live with a Kingdom building focus?
  • How am I supposed to understand the Bible? Do I have to go to Bible College before I’m ever going to understand the context it was meant in?
  • Why does it hurt so much more when you’re hurt by a fellow follower than when you’re hurt by your regular everyday person?
  • Why is there so much hypocrisy in the church and am I contributing to that in any way?
  • Why isn’t my life that much different to my non-Jesus -following friends when I know it should be?
  • How did I get to the point where I was too busy doing church that I didn’t have time to connect with people who needed to see God’s love lived out in action?
  • Why is it so much easier to sit and be a “church person” than to get out there and make a difference for the Kingdom of God?
  • What is the purpose of the church and why is there so much division, particularly between generations and even denominations? Why aren’t we working together to build the Kingdom instead of having turf wars?
  • What is Christian community supposed to look like in modern times and in our western culture? It’s not like we can all live together and share everything like the first century believers did.
  • How do I balance serving believers and fulfilling the command to go and make disciples?
  • Why are Christians so intent on making sure the world knows what we hate and what we stand against rather than making sure people know that God loves them with no ifs, buts, or maybes?

My close friends think that I think too much…and that might be true in some cases 🙂 …but sometimes you just have to ask yourself the hard questions if you are going to grow and be effective!  Asking these kinds of questions doesn’t mean that I am questioning my faith. And it doesn’t mean that I am a heretic simply because I am choosing not to idolise tradition. I want to be a REAL follower of Jesus…not one that plays at it… and to do that I need to explore and question and strengthen my beliefs. I know people are going to think I’m losing my mind, but that’s OK. 🙂

You’d better believe that God is not going to crumble under close scrutiny…there may be some other things that will…but not God!

I think this phase of my adventure may well last the rest of my life!

Do you ever ask yourself questions like these ones? What sorts of questions do you ask?

Michelle

If you want to see all of the posts about my adventure click here.

The restoration phase

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This post is part of my adventure series…click here to make sure you catch the whole series.

As far as I can tell at this stage of the adventure there will be at least two phases. I’m guessing that the phases will be somewhat parallel after the first little bit. The first phase is the restoration phase. Anne Jackson’s book  Mad Church Disease outlines four areas of a person’s life that need to be healthy in order to follow God and approach  this lifelong adventure in a sustainable way. They are:

  • spiritual health;
  • physical health;
  • emotional health; and
  • relational health.

When these four areas intersect, we find out sweet spot for sustainability. God built us as whole people whose whole lives are supposed to be dedicated to this grand expedition of following Him…we can’t just look after our spiritual health and neglect the other areas if we’re going to make it to the other end in one piece.

For me, I can’t get moving on this adventure until I address each of these areas, and I can tell you now that I’m in need of some serious work to get healthy.

So where do I start? I haven’t got a clue to be honest. Baby steps…obviously…too much all at once and I’ll get discouraged and crawl under a rock. One step at a time is the way to lasting health in each of these areas.

My first step will be a weekend of solitude, prayer, meditating on scripture, fasting and working through the examination steps in Anne’s book. My lovely family bought me a long weekend away by myself for Mother’s Day, so in a couple of weeks I’ll trek up to Jindabyne and take a long hard look at myself and see what needs to be dealt with in order to get healthy.

I am so excited to be on this adventure, and I want to know what God’s preparing me for, but I also know that I’m not ready yet.

How’s your overall health? Are you fit for the adventure you’re on? Have you been there, done that and bought the t-shirt? How did you start?

Michelle

If you want to see all of the posts about my adventure click here.

Metaphorical and literal winter!

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This post is part of my adventure series…click here to make sure you catch the whole series.

To borrow the immortal words of William Shakespeare…..”now is the winter of my discontent.”

Six weeks ago I stepped down from a role that I loved doing. Even though, humanly speaking, I didn’t want to…I decided to step out of my role as  a worship director at my church after three and a half years for four reasons:

  1. to preserve unity in the church;
  2. to submit to my leaders;
  3. to be obedient to God; and
  4. to focus on my family – my primary ministry.

This has been one of the single most difficult and painful decisions of my life. I am the kind of person who loves to serve, I like to be active and to be doing something. It is difficult for me to not be serving in what I perceive to be an active way. But over the past couple of months God has been telling me through a variety of ways that it’s time for me to rest. To take a sabbatical. And I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a struggle. Of the 25 years I have been at my church, I have been a part of the music team for 20 years. And God has told me to REST. I am the kind of person who takes a week to unwind when we go on family holidays…and even then I have “stuff” to do.

To be honest, I guess at one level I got a lot of affirmation from being up front, and you certainly find out who your friends are when you stop attending church regularly and its for a reason other than you’re leaving town. Not one person has called or emailed (without wanting something else)…I have been at the church for 25 years. And yes, it hurts. I feel like an utter failure. It’s a lonely path.  I have followed God and done as I felt I was directed, but I am feeling alone in a human sense. And I  think that God is probably stripping things away that could be taken by my human brain to be attributed to my activity. I have to come to a place where anything that happens can only be through the power of God in my life.

But God is good. Slowly but surely over time He has been showing me that He wants to take me on a journey. I have a chronic case of Mad Church Disease and the next phase of my life is dedicated to healing. I am taking a complete sabbatical from the institutional church to do two things…the first is to go though a phase of restoration, and the second is to go through a phase of reaffirming my foundations. Both of these things are consistent with the biblical concept of the sabbatical, and I’ll be sharing my journey with you as I work though stuff.

When I say complete sabbatical, let me be very clear. I will not be participating in any regular scheduled church service activity. I will not be involved in music ministry, and I won’t be signing up for any other activity. I will be seeking a broader Kingdom view of the Church (sorry for the jargon, I will be blogging more about this in the year ahead) by exploring other arms of the body of Christ. I will not give up meeting with believers. I strongly believe in the value of the Church, but there needs to be a time of separation in order to gain perspective.

My next two posts will cover what I think will be involved in the restoration and reaffirming phases of my sabbatical. I also REALLY want to share with you what God is showing me about Biblical rest. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for 30 years and this is the first I am hearing of this?? Wow!

Now…where does the winter thing come into it? God has been speaking into my life through the guys at Swerve …they posted a series of articles a little while ago about the seasons of ministry. I am in the midst of a period of Winter. There might not be a  whole lot going on above the surface – the branches are barren and the ground is covered in smothering snow, but beneath the snowy ground the roots are straining and growing and forming a solid foundation for the explosion of growth when God decides it’s time for the Spring to come and the harvest to start.

I am currently so discontent with the status quo. I want to know what God has for me…what is there in my life that is just church tradition that has been passed down and absorbed, and what does God really want for me? I MUST know.

This is the winter of my discontent…I am going to find the answers to my questions. I am tired of being so busy doing church that I can’t be the Church. Will you pray for me on my journey? Will you step out and join me on my journey? Do you have any questions about why you believe the stuff you believe about God and the church?

Michelle

If you want to see all of the posts about my adventure click here.

Teachability – great post over at Swerve!

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One of the things I am most careful to cultivate in my life is teachability. I think it’s a critical attribute, not only for leaders, but for everyone. It’s one that I strive to teach my kids too…I think that creativity and adaptability and teachability are going to to be THE most useful skills in a world that changes as rapidly as ours does.

The guys over at Swerve have a great post about it today… Pop over and have a read.

What do you think? 

I have another question for you…what do you do when you ask for constructive feedback from your manager/supervisor/pastor and all you get is a pat on the back? How do you get the feedback you require to develop and grow? A pat on the back is nice..but no-one gets it right all the time! Share your insight!

Michelle