Self-forgetfulness and Criticism

20130212-193422.jpg
Some great insight from Timothy Keller:

“The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions. The world tells the person who is thin-skinned and devastated by criticism to deal with it by saying, ‘Who cares what they think? I know what I think. Who cares what the rabble thinks? It doesn’t bother me.’ People are either devastated by criticism – or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They know who they are and what they think. In other words, our only solution to low-self esteem is pride. But that is no solution. Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us.

The person who is self-forgetful is the complete opposite. When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. Sounds idealistic? The more we get to understand the gospel, the more we want to change. Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honor – nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition – nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either?

This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less.”

Education and Worldview

glassesDoug Wilson offers some wisdom regarding education and worldview,

“As Machen states, truth is truth however learned. It is possible to teach students to balance their checkbooks without any reference to God. But this is not education; it is merely mental dexterity. Students are not being taught to think thoroughly. They are merely being trained to function in a particular way. When a student is taught to think, he will relate what he learns in one class to the information offered in another. But he can only do this when he has an integrating principle — something that will tie all the subjects together.”

The question is whether or not we as parents make clear to our children as they are educated that the “integrating principle” is God in His grandeur and grace.

Home education: Do you intentionally point out or use a suitable curriculum that points to God’s grandeur and grace?
Christian Day School education: Do those teaching your children partner with you by consistently revealing the grace and grandeur of God in every subject. More importantly, do the teachers model it as well?
Public/Charter education: Do you know your teachers’, school’s, and district’s “integrating principle” that ties all the subjects together? If it is anything other than the grandeur and grace of God, how are you combatting these competing worldviews and belief systems that teach your child to connect these subjects in an abhorrent way?

Whatever the educational choice, we must recognize the truth that every educational endeavor is religious in that certain beliefs mandate a worldview.  It is our priority as parents to help our children keep the grandeur and grace of God central to their worldview.

The Modern Meeting Rejects the Unprepared

20110827-032426.jpg

Meeting preparedness requires two components. 1. Organizers who prepare good agendas. 2. Attendees who read the agenda and accompanying materials.

Organizers – Preparing an agenda involves thinking through what is going to happen at the meeting — what the objectives are, who should be invited, what they should bring, and how long the meeting will last.

Attendees – Every meeting should require pre-meeting work. So that each attendee is up-to-speed, materials should be distributed beforehand. If the attendee doesn’t have time to read through the materials, then the attendee doesn’t have time to attend the meeting. Afterall, how do you thoughtfully debate a decision or intelligently coordinate resulting actions upon having only heard it for the first time? Unfortunately we have grown accustomed to impromptu comments sounding intelligent. If meeting attendees will commit to being prepared, then impromptu comments will be viewed accurately – unsubstantial.

Pastors should understand and respect the time constraints of those with whom they labor. Sometimes pastors can be the chief offenders. Is it not uncaring toward your co-laborers to stroll into a meeting empty-handed, wanting to be briefed, and then offering off-the-cuff observations as if the weight of your position is sufficient to overturn a room full of thoughtful people?

Unpreparedness can be cured easily. If one comes to the meeting unprepared, then cancel the meeting or hold the meeting without him. The unprepared participant must understand he is dead weight.

Meetings comprised of those who need to be there

20110827-032426.jpg

The next principle Pittampalli offers concerning the modern meeting is
The modern meeting limits the number of attendees

Initially, this principle may come across as a power grab that doesn’t care about the opinions of anyone else in the organization. However, if this principle is taken in conjunction with earlier principles, then one would expect the meeting owner to have already had numerous conversations with those affected by the decision so that the owner arrives at the meeting with abundant representation of opinions. Deliberate leadership and decision making need not be at odds with great care toward those whom decisions affect. The point is that meetings should not and cannot be held effectively unless the personnel is limited in some way.

Limiting the personnel also goes both ways along the leadership scale. Just because you’re the top leader of the organization doesn’t mean you need to be at every meeting. If you have nothing to add to the meeting, and you truly trust the person delegated to oversee a particular facet of the organization, then please give yourself to more important matters that need your direct input. To do otherwise can be construed to communicate that you either don’t trust the person tasked with the decision, or that your presence at such meetings is simply a symbolic exercise of authority – authority over that which you have not researched or have nothing to offer.

Granted, it is a delicate process to decipher who to include and exclude. The goal is to limit the number so as to be efficient but not to exclude those whose investment in the decision is needed.

Lastly, limiting the number of attendees is liberating. There should be freedom to decline attending meetings regarding decisions for which we have no strong opinion, no interest in the outcome, and are not instrumental for the coordination that needs to take place. If I don’t need to be there, then please let me attend to other matters so that I do not waste my time and others’ time by just sitting and listening.

Some diagnostic question:
1. Will you be able to function if you read about the meeting after it’s over?
2. If you are given the decision we are discussing in advance, will you be able to give me your opinion in advance?
3. Do you add any value by sitting in the meeting without participating?
4. Are you attending symbolically, or simply as a way to demonstrate your power?

Meetings that move fast and end on schedule

20110827-032426.jpg

The second principle of a modern meeting is that it moves fast and ends on schedule. Too often meetings seem to go on endlessly. When the end time of the meeting arrives, we tend to add more time to the clock, or, even worse, add more meetings. It is true that there are some very important matters that require long hours of thinking, but this thinking does not require a meeting. Again, we do our thinking, planning, and discussing before the meeting so that the agenda item we present has already been thought through and provides answers for anticipated questions. If we will but do our own work ahead of time, we will not waste the time of others at a meeting by enlisting them to do the work we should have done ourselves ahead of the meeting time.
There are also occasions when it is necessary to throw out the clock so that we can give ourselves to vision casting and the solicitation of ideas, but these times are brainstorming sessions; not meetings. More will be said about this dichotomy in later posts.
Setting and adhering to reasonable time limits within a meeting accomplishes two purposes: 1. We demonstrate respect for one another’s time and ministry obligations. 2. We are more prone to discuss the matter in a more focused, careful manner because we know that the time for decision is looming. Granted, this doesn’t always work perfectly. For whatever reason, there are times when a decision must be tabled, or that the nature of the decision is wisely postponed and given over to further prayer. Unfortunately, however, many meetings fail to produce decisions because discussion was sidetracked, and there was no time pressure to keep it on track.
Pittampalli writes, “With too much time, even the most unshakeable decision will be reconsidered. Arguments turn circular; the same points occur over and over again without more real information being added to the debate. More time leads to more doubt. More doubt leads to more anxiety. More anxiety makes the decision fall apart.”
I am not against careful consideration, nor am I encouraging rash decisions. This should be evident in my plea for pre-meeting preparation. I am not against looking at important decisions carefully and prayerfully. I do think, however, that what is often called “careful and deliberate consideration” is, in reality, a lack of planning and disciplined discussion. “Careful” and “deliberate” are wonderful qualities; these two qualities, however, do not exclude progress. In the end, the old adage is true: “Deadlines are procrastination’s worst enemy.”

Meet with Decisions in Mind

20110827-032426.jpg

The first principle of the modern meeting is to meet only to support a decision already made. Within a church setting this presupposes a couple of situations:
1. There is a church polity in place that has some semblance of distributed authority. A meeting of “decision-makers” is quite difficult if there is only one true decision-maker. Without distributed authority, meetings consist primarily of proposals through which the one decision maker solicits opinions, but ultimately must make the final decision. Such meetings tend toward long, drawn-out auditions of ideas that routinely “die” waiting in queue to be processed by a one-man bottleneck.
2. There is a clear understanding of roles within the organization. Even if more authority is vested in a “senior” pastor, his authority should be delegated clearly among the team that serves with him. This allows the team members to know what decisions are within their purview. Shared authority (fully equal or delegated) allows for meetings to move beyond the infinite exchange of thoughts, wishes and ideas toward a more focused discussion of decisions that have been made.

Assuming the above is in place, decisions may be brought to the meeting to be stopped or to be pushed along. If the decision promotes the mission and philosophy of the church, then allow the decision-maker to proceed with the details of implementation. If a decision is questionable in regard to the mission and philosophy of the church, then the meeting turns to a focused discussion of how the idea misses the mark. Either way, the meeting focuses sharply on implementation or positive conflict rather than spur-of-the-moment thoughts, opinions, or, even worse, lengthy anecdotes.

These decisions, of course, are the result of the decision-maker’s pre-meeting research, conversations, and discussions. The entire staff shouldn’t be called together to do this background work along with the decision-maker. The decision-maker respects the time of the entire staff by bringing the fruits of his labor for a better, focused meeting. In addition, the decision-maker must own his decision while at the same time possessing the humility and corporate vision to adjust his thinking and decision in light of the solid, positive criticism of his peers.

In short, coming to meetings with decisions rather than topics is far more beneficial and respectful of your colleagues’ time. Of course, this whole process is dependent on the formal agenda item being specific and well-written.