The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Ron Friedman - Harvard Business Review
4 July 2014

Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen—olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?

We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.

And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.

So what are we to do?

One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone.  It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.

The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.

Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.

In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.

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Paralysis by Analysis – How Curiosity Kills Decision-Making

Ron Friedman - Fast Company
August 24, 2012

Reflections on an interesting study that shows we struggle with uncertainty…and information we have to work for (or wait for) tends to weigh more in our decision-making.  For this “input,” this means my obsession with getting more information and exhausting all options before making a move can lead me astray.  I should trust myself–and my knowledge–more.

What about you…are you addicted to knowledge?

The Spirit as Teacher

O God the Holy Spirit,

That which I know not, teach thou me,
Keep me a humble disciple in the school of Christ,
learning daily there what I am in myself,
a fallen sinful creature,
justly deserving everlasting destruction;
O let me never lose sight of my need of a Saviour,
or forget that apart from him I am nothing,
and can do nothing.

Open my understanding to know
the Holy Scriptures;
Reveal to my soul the counsels and works
of the blessed Trinity;
Instil into my dark mind the saving knowledge of Jesus;
Make me acquainted with his covenant undertakings
and his perfect fulfilment of them,
that by resting on his finished work
I may find the Father’s love in the Son,
his Father, my Father,
and may be brought through thy influence
to have fellowship with the Three in One.

O lead me into all truth, thou Spirit of wisdom and revelation,
that I may know the things that belong unto my peace,
and through thee be made anew.

Make practical upon my heart the Father’s love
as thou hast revealed it in the Scriptures;
Apply to my soul the blood of Christ, effectually, continually,
and help me to believe, with conscience
comforted, that it cleanseth from all sin;
Lead me from faith to faith,
that I may at all times have freedom to come to a reconciled Father,
and may be able to maintain peace with him
against doubts, fears, corruptions, temptations.

Thy office is to teach me to draw near to Christ with a pure heart,
steadfastly persuaded of his love,
in the full assurance of faith.

Let me never falter in this way.

Puritan Prayer from The Valley of Vision

Daniel and Jenelle’s Wedding Message

A few of you have asked for what I shared at the wedding ceremony yesterday…so here they are.  It was such an honor to officiate for these two – one of my best friends in the world, and a couple who love God so profoundly and are deeply in love with each other.  What a fantastic witness of God’s First Love manifest here and now!

Marriage was created by God to be a very special relationship modeled on His own covenant love for humanity – it is the doing and the display of God. It is designed as a unique manifestation of God’s covenant grace. It is unlike any other relationship on earth: it is bound by covenant, it’s as close as any relationship can be, and it’s for a lifetime. So as we begin this transition and you articulate your covenantal vows to God and to one another, as you initiate your promise to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”… Who presents Jenelle to be married to Daniel?

Daniel and Jenelle, this is a joyous day…the continuation of a lifetime of love and ministry and service, but the beginning of doing all those things TOGETHER as one. It was an honor to hear the stories of your family and friends last night—reminders of your belovedness; testimonies of the ways you both love God and love others so deeply; witnesses to the fact that you are both answers to many prayers…and tying all that together is this sense of hope of what our world will look like with you two building His kingdom as ONE.

We’re better off with you two together as one.

Genesis 2 describes man and woman—created in God’s image—being “united together and becom[ing] one flesh.” I can’t imagine that is an insignificant allusion in Scripture, as there is no real need to mention that these two individuals “becomes one” unless somehow the concept pointed to something more important.

In Exodus, God tells Moses to have the Israelites put 50 golden clasps on the curtains so that the tabernacle would be ONE unit. Ezekiel said the Lord directed him to bind two sticks together (one representing Judah, the other Ephraim) as ONE made up of two parts, representing the union of the northern and southern kingdoms.

Perhaps most importantly, though, we see this come together in Deuteronomy 6:4, a passage known as the Shema, which says, Shema Israel, adonai elohenu, adonai echad. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” That Hebrew word for “one” in each of these instances is echad. (If you don’t spit on someone when you say it, then you’re saying it wrong.) Many, yet somehow, at the same time, one.

In this sense, marriage is a reflection, a symbol pointing us all to God’s Oneness. When two people join their lives together in marriage, they enter somehow into this mysterious unity with plurality, two yet somehow one, that reflect the relationship of the Trinity and the covenantal love God has for his bride, the Church.

So the charge for you to day is to consider seriously the challenge of tending to, nurturing, maintaining your ONENESS in marriage. We do that by, as the author of Colossians reminds us, “setting our hearts on things above, ridding ourselves of our earthly nature and things such as anger, malice, slander, dishonesty…and clothing our new selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and forgiveness.”

C.S. Lewis’ reminds us that being “in love” is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. It is a fickle feeling that comes and goes and is not a solid foundation for a loving life together…but being in love is the catalyst for a deeper, quieter, faithful love “maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit.”

Being in love moved you today to promise your fidelity to one another; this nurtured, cultivated, sacrificial love is a gift of God’s grace offered to two who rely solely on Him and who together seek the benefit of the other. And God will receive all the glory as two different and imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness together as one.

11 Reasons Small-Group Fellowships Struggle

home-churchThe need for effective small group ministry is implied in the New Testament. If the local church is to truly develop the spiritual gifts of its members and mobilize the terrific power of the Holy Spirit to work through a trained and experienced laity, if it is to facilitate true relationship-based community, it will need to organize smaller groups where these qualities can be nurtured and cultivated.

Xenos Fellowship, an independent church in Columbus, Ohio, has centered its ministry in lay-led, small home group ministry since it’s beginning in 1970. Using this focus, Xenos has grown from a handful in 1970 to well over 3000 today. Their small group ministry has also resulted in good morale on the part of the 400 lay home fellowship leaders, all graduates of the 2-year, graded training course for leaders.

Because of this success, other pastors often call on the Xenos staff to consult regarding how to establish and/or manage small group lay ministry in their own churches.

Through these consultations, we have discovered that small group ministries are not a novel idea at all. In fact, most evangelical churches seem to have tried to establish a network of small groups at one time or another. At the same time, most of these efforts are disappointing to some degree and leaders regularly ask what they’re doing wrong.

The problems encountered when trying to establish a home group ministry sometimes include a lack of participation and interest on the part of the members of the church. Sometimes a small minority of the church struggles along, unwilling to admit failure in the program and developing a “faithful remnant” theology which justifies, on theological grounds, the lack of growth and lack of participation by the other members. Church division is also a possibility, although we have not seen very many cases where this occurred.

We think these frequent failures are not the result of divine opposition to the idea of small groups, or the fact that, “our kind of people aren’t right for this sort of thing.” Instead, we think there are a number of good theological and practical reasons why these groups usually struggle or fail.

1. They are often not based on New Testament practice and theory.

Both New Testament example and principle argue for small home-sized groups as a key feature of the local church. Acts 2:46 states that the Jerusalem church met “in the temple” and “from house to house . . .” Concerning the meetings in the Temple, we know that Solomon’s portico was probably quite large, and could have accommodated even the several thousands that were a part of the Jerusalem church. Thus, in Jerusalem, they held both large and small group meetings.

Clearly, they did not feel the large meetings were enough by themselves. It should be obvious that an impersonal atmosphere will result if we only hold only very large meetings. The local church should encourage a network of close relationships in its congregation because real community must be based on close relationships. Smaller group meeting formats such as those described in this passage would be ideal for fostering such relationships.

In another case, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had exhorted them both “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). In this passage, “publicly” probably refers to the school room of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). But Paul did not limit his speaking ministry to the large meeting place, even though one was available. He also worked “from house to house.”

Paul apparently refers to several home churches in the city of Rome (Romans 16: 4, 10, 11, 14, 15). In 1 Corinthians 14:35, he mentions “churches” in the plural, after having already referred to “the church of God which is at Corinth,” in the singular (1 Corinthians 1:2).

It seems clear from these and other references that operating a cluster of home churches in each city was common practice. These home groups continued to work together under the same elders. It is probably significant that no church buildings have been found from the earliest period of the church (33—150 AD), and even those from the second century were homes with a large room built in. Every church with a building faces the challenge of resisting people’s tendency to view the building as the church.

New Testament principles surrounding the issues of body life, spiritual gifts, and the fact that real spiritual ministry is the business of every member in the local church can not be effectively brought into practice in a large group setting (see Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12,14; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:19). The church must provide smaller group settings where relationships can grow between members so they will be able to discover each other’s needs. Only then will they be able to meet those needs on an individual level.

Unfortunately, when churches attempt to initiate a small group ministry, they sometimes fail to teach and persuade their people that the purpose of the meeting is to practice these biblical principles. The result is sometimes a wrong impression on the part of most participants. Members often feel that the meeting is primarily intended as a social gathering, a support group, or a place where “my needs can be met,” rather than “a place where I can develop a ministry.”

The first order of business in beginning this kind of ministry is to launch a teaching offensive in the church. The goal would be to establish an understanding and a vision of the New Testament model and the spiritual goals associated with lay mobilization in the minds of the participants.

2. The wrong criteria are sometimes followed for the selection of leaders.

The Bible teaches that spiritual criteria should be used to select leaders. The qualifications of a deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-13) would serve well for the initial selection of leaders of home fellowship groups. Too often, however, the church will designate men and women for leadership on the basis of secular abilities, job status, levels of financial giving, or seniority in the church. The result is usually a meeting that is not very spiritually edifying or appealing.

After leaders have been selected on the basis of character and knowledge, they should also be evaluated on the basis of actual function, or role. When Jesus says “my sheep hear my voice,” he is giving us a basic way to recognize a good shepherd. A Christian’s leadership cannot be authenticated until someone is willing to follow him/her.

In many of our churches, it may be very difficult to determine who our authentic leaders are. This is because they have not had ample opportunity to try their hand at leadership. In these cases, we will have to pick leaders on the basis of the best criteria possible. Later, when lay-led groups are in place, it should be possible to evaluate the effectiveness of the work done by the more committed members of the group. Other things being equal, the more effective workers should be the first to be moved forward.

3. Frequently, insufficient authority is given to the leaders.

If the home fellowship is to be fashioned after the Biblical examples of house churches, then the leaders of the groups should be allowed to run their groups the way the leaders of the New Testament house churches ran theirs. Since the New Testament instructs readers to respect their leaders and to follow their lead in the running of the home church, we can assume those leaders had many decisions delegated to them (1 Corinthians 16:16; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Sometimes, churches impose a structure upon the small group that is too restrictive. This structure may include a pre-planned curriculum for study, and a long list of policy restrictions. The effect is usually to stifle initiative and sap motivation. The leaders realize very quickly that they are functioning as agents for the existing leadership of the church, but that they themselves are leaders in name only. When the church requires the home group leaders to check in on virtually all decisions, it clearly suggests that they are incompetent to make their own decisions. Sometimes they are incompetent, but the church must see the challenge in this, rather than accepting the status quo.

Similarly, pre-planned curriculum often actually scripts the meeting and requires little creativity or expertise on the part of group leaders. Indeed, the main reason for scripting the meeting is usually the feeling that group leaders have no expertise of their own. Such lack of expertise points in turn to a weak equipping ministry in the church. Failure to train leaders to a sophisticated level results in leaders who must be led by the hand at all times. When this happens, leaders (often highly competent and educated at their secular jobs) realize that anyone could follow the simple script, and consequently, they are not challenged. They lose interest in leading, and begin to call on the leadership to be passed around the group. They fail to take possession of the role of home group leader as a worth while life goal. We believe churches are often too impatient when trying to move from a program-based model to a home group model of church life, and therefore they grossly underestimate the level of training and equipping needed to develop effective leaders. Impatience may also signal lack of commitment, because in-depth equipping is expensive in both dollars and man hours for the church’s leaders. See #7 below.

We don’t believe the central leadership of the church should forsake all control over the actions of home fellowship leaders, because lay leaders are usually not as well trained as seminary graduates or as experienced as the church’s top leadership. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully weigh which areas are left to the discretion of the home leaders, and which areas need to be cleared with the higher authority of the church. The point in making this decision is to arrive at a balance that will prevent serious errors from occurring (even though we never have a guarantee that all problems can be prevented), while delegating real decision-making authority to the home fellowship leaders.

4. The groups may have an unhealthy inward-focus.

Small groups are often set up with the ultimate goal of fellowship or personal support rather than evangelism or mission. While quality fellowship and support is one of the by-products (or rewards) of small group ministry, it is an inadequate basis. If we have only fellowship as our goal, the group is corporately self-centered, or self-focused. Thus, it’s no surprise that such groups are prone to division and discontent. This is because outreach and mission are the natural context within which fellowship should occur.

When a group of people occupy themselves with each other to the exclusion of the outside world, discontent is sure to follow. We should be unwilling to consider the option of handling outreach at the large meeting and limiting small groups to a fellowship role. The group may not engage in outreach at its weekly meeting, but they have to work together and pray together on some shared mission.

While evangelism is not mention specifically in Acts 2:46, it does say that the Jerusalem church was “breaking bread from house to house.” In 1 Corinthians 14:24, Paul clearly contemplates “unbelievers” entering a meeting which is an interactive meeting – apparently a home church (see verses 26, 34).

5. There is often no provision for church discipline within the small group.

In cases where home fellowships are set up with no provision for church discipline, a very distressing and familiar pattern emerges. Some people are attracted to small groups for the wrong reasons. There are those who come to exploit others, or simply to use the group to become the center of attention.

The impact of such people is greater in a small group than it would be in a large meeting. As a result, the whole character of the group can be altered to such an extent that it becomes difficult to attract new people, or even to hold the interest and loyalty of the productive members.

The New Testament provides a solution to this kind of situation. Those members who are willing to damage others or themselves are to be confronted in love about their attitude and/or actions (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Matthew 18:15). If they are not responsive, a legitimate amount of pressure can be applied—even to the point of removing them from the group.

According to the Bible, this kind of discipline in love should be normative (1 Corinthians 5). The application of discipline should be gracious and suited to the needs of the individual as well as the group. In order to prevent abuses or legalism, the eldership should be consulted in cases where an ultimatum may be issued.

Churches worry about angering people if they practice discipline. This concern is legitimate; but while we will anger some by exercising discipline, we endanger all by failing to exercise it. Worst of all, those being disciplined miss out on one of the important provisions for growth in the New Testament.

Small group attendance is a privilege in the church. Participation should have conditions attached, such as no anti-social or disruptive behavior. Otherwise, the small groups become soft, unruly, and unappealing.

6. All groups may be the same, rather than diversified and matched to their members.

For some reason, churches generally devise and execute a plan for small groups that features only one kind of group. But now we see that family-aged people need a different type of group than students or singles or our seniors.

Why should a large church (or even a small one) have only one type of group? Creativity on the part of leaders and planners could result in a number of models for meetings, featuring different sizes, different formats, different purposes, and different commitment levels. Every church should be different.

7. There may be no adequate equipping offered to would-be leaders.

The Bible does not allow the local church the option of telling its people to go away for their training. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, it is the responsibility of the leadership of the local church to provide quality training in Christian work (“the work of service”) to its own people. When the leadership of a church decides not to have a small group ministry because its “laymen” are too ignorant, this is not an excuse – it is an admission of guilt!

For many churches, the first step toward a successful home fellowship ministry would be to establish a full year-long course of in-depth theological and practical ministry training for the proposed leadership group. We find that most churches try to get by with a five- or ten-week training series which is inadequate for sophisticated leadership responsibilities. People will take longer training courses if they can break up the training into modules, and if they view taking these classes as fun. This is why we need to put our best communicators and leaders in as teachers in this training.

If a church already has an adequate supply of leaders who have some biblical knowledge, it would be preferable to hold this training while small groups are in progress, so they can immediately use the knowledge they learn. This prevents the accumulation of “dead knowledge” and also avoids creating the impression that Christian work is more difficult than it really is.

At the same time, we should be clear that completing the training course will not necessarily result in an assignment as a home group leader. That decision will have to also depend on other considerations such as character development and a record of self-sacrificing service to others.

Finally, aside from classroom training, each home group should develop its own program of personal discipleship and ministry training (Matthew 28:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:2). The classes should be viewed as supplemental to the grass-roots discipleship practiced at the home group level.

8. The church may set no multiplication goals, and may have no good plan for multiplying home groups.

In many cases, a home fellowship’s existence is viewed as an end in itself. As mentioned earlier, this lack of mission-mindedness has a negative effect on the group. In order for groups to be spiritually healthy, they need a purpose greater than themselves. On the other hand, good small groups tend not to stay small. Thus, when a house fills up with people, much of the interactive character of the group is lost. In addition, outreach tends to dwindle because there is no room for new people.

In cases like this, it is natural to divide the group in order to preserve the small size of the group, while at the same time, reaching more people.

Unless the church propagates a vision and a plan for planting new groups which encourages outreach, discipleship, and equipping, home fellowships tend to resist multiplication. The status quo is always more comfortable than the change and risk that come with growth.

We should establish ground rules that help to ensure success for newly planted groups with a minimum of disruption to the relationships that have been developed. Otherwise, the system will tend to stifle initiative and punish success. In other words, the view of the leaders might well be, “the faster our group grows, the sooner we get to part ways with the close friends we have made so far.”

Good planning should make it possible for close friends to stay together most of the time, thus minimizing the disruption involved in planting new groups.

9. Small groups are sometimes viewed as peripheral rather than central to the life of the church.

In some churches, the large worship meeting and/or teaching meetings are viewed as essential, but the home group is considered an option – helpful to some, but not necessarily normative for healthy involvement in the local church.

As pointed out earlier, this view diminishes the Biblical point of view that the local body depends on the individual function of each and every member (Ephesians 4:15-16). We need to resist the temptation to dilute this teaching (for instance, teaching that giving money on Sunday, or serving as an usher could fulfill the intent of this passage). If we allow this kind of superficial understanding of church life to dominate, there will be no strong motivation to exercise real spiritual gifts, or to encourage the success of small group ministry.

If the church fails to establish a vision in the minds of its members for full involvement, the result will likely be a very poor level of participation in the home fellowship program. Often, only those with little to do will spend the time it takes to become meaningfully involved. To obtain the help of our most gifted members, we will need to teach that involvement in home mission and fellowship is an exciting opportunity to finally realize the full extent of normal Christian experience.

The leadership in the local church must cultivate a mentality, or consensus in the church which places an appropriate emphasis on this kind of ministry. Such a consensus can be created without resorting to legalism. The leadership must truly believe in the concept themselves, and be willing to teach and practice it in their own lives.

10. They are sometimes viewed as a threat by the pastor(s) of the church.

Pastors might fear home groups for several reasons. False teaching is always a danger, but this is why the Bible teaches the need for “overseers” or elders. The elders should also train the “lay” work force so that they will be able to teach sound doctrine. Pastors also worry that a small group network may not be effective, thus leading to disappointment in the church. The record of home fellowships in recent years has been mixed, and somewhat disappointing. But we can see from this list some reasons why.

Some leaders may prefer the control that they have when they are the only leaders in the church. This feeling is understandable, especially when a pastor is already having trouble controlling the situation in the church. However, we need to see at this point, that a quality small group ministry would not increase the workload of the pastor in the long run. The key to maintaining quality ministry even for a growing church, is to delegate work to other members. Pastors who succeed in establishing a successful and vital small group network do not see their own leadership eroded at all.

The man or woman of God must pass judgment on his/her own attitude, admitting that a willingness to inhibit others’ ministry for the sake of establishing his/her own is most censurable. The fact that we may feel threatened in our position in the church is no excuse! We have been placed where we are in order to facilitate others’ ministry, not to inhibit it.

11. Home groups are often introduced in a programmatic, not a natural way.

One church after another has reported that they formed a plan, presented it to the church, started a dozen home groups and got dismal results or even strong resistance from the congregation. We suggest not approaching home groups this way, because it is unnatural. Home groups should grow in an organic way, not be thrown into existence through a massive program. Instead, the best way to introduce home groups in Xenos Christian Fellowship’s opinion is:

  • Identify a handful of people who understand and hunger for the vision of home-based fellowship. This could take some time, as leaders may have to persuade some that this approach is biblical and exciting.
  • Once that group is identified, the leaders of the church should begin meeting with them in the first home group. Usually, a single home group is preferable, as the future opinion leaders in the church need to get on the same page about what a home group is and how it works. Plead with the senior pastor to be a part of this group. Planning meetings are not the answer here. Only meeting together and trying different formats and approaches will lead to the consensus you need. Group members should be encouraged to share with non-members their experiences and vision for these kind of groups. If the group is full and others are unable to join, their frustration will actually serve as motivation later when more groups are available. Calling on people to wait will not hurt the project, especially if you make it clear that they are welcome and you are eager to work them in as soon as possible. Keep a waiting list.
  • During this first year, the leaders should devise and implement a series of courses for future home group leaders. People waiting to join a home group should be urged to take advantage of the classes while they wait. If you have a lengthy waiting list, explain that those who take classes will be the first to qualify for participation in home groups. During this period, the church should come to realize that participation in home groups is not a duty or an added burden, but a privilege.
  • When the first group is full and people are ready (this could take months or a year or two) the group should divide and plant another group or groups. Then others can be again invited to join.
  • We believe the natural pattern for adding members to existing groups is personal relationships, not geography. Churches that base home groups on geography usually find that the groups lack cohesion because people don’t know each other. Allow people to invite their friends and relatives to their own group, regardless of where they live in the city.
  • At first, the leadership may want to supervise additions to home groups. Later this will be unnecessary. The point is to try to assure success by getting the best people into home groups in a mix that promises success. Avoid filling groups with only hard cases.
  • Using a system of collegiate review, allow and encourage groups to plant other groups when they are ready. Group leaders should participate in some type of oversight system. Avoid pressuring groups to move too fast, but also refuse to accept a mentality that says “We’re satisfied staying the way we are.”
  • Through multiplication of home groups you can see large numbers of groups formed within a few years. The larger congregation will naturally want to participate in something they hear others are enjoying. Have members of successful groups share their testimonies at your worship service and elsewhere. Build excitement gradually for the home group project. Give people a sense that they have arrived once they get to join a home group.

–with Dennis McCallum of Xenos Christian Fellowship

A Bone to Pick: Why Did We Hear Only One Side of the Camel Argument?

I have a bone to pick with some journalists — a camel bone. Several months ago, two Israeli scholars, known for their minimalist views regarding the Bible, made a stunning announcement. They had discovered camel bones at an ancient copper mine on the Israeli-Jordanian border, and according to radiocarbon dating these bones dated from the days of Solomon with few traces of earlier extant camel bones; therefore, said the scholars, camels were not domesticated in the days of Abraham. References to camels in Genesis are thus spurious and fabricated centuries after the described events.

News organizations widely reported this story, but none of the articles I read provided any countering views or demonstrated any further research into the subject. What I saw instead was a series of one-sided headlines. CNN labeled the story: “Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?” The New York Times announced: “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.” Yahoo reported: “Appearance of Camels in Genesis Called Sign of Author’s Distance from History.” Another headline said: “Study of Camel Bones Suggests the Bible May Be Wrong.” Yet another: “Camel Archaeology Contradicts the Bible.”

It didn’t take long for the hyperbolic headlines to seep into the popular culture. One night a few weeks ago my wife and I were watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory featuring the brilliant but nerdy scientist Sheldon Cooper, whose mother is portrayed as a crazy fundamentalist Christian. Sheldon, on his way to see her, was eager to tell her how camel bones had punctured her beloved book of Genesis.

As I followed this story, I searched in vain for an interview or even a sentence from dissenting academicians, of whom there are many. I subsequently conversed and corresponded with a rich handful of eminent professors who quite easily disputed the claims made in the papers, and I wondered why none of them had been called or quoted in the press.

I also learned the camel debate was nothing new. Discussions about the role of camels in the book of Genesis have been raging for over a hundred years. In an 1899 book, for example, Oxford Professor Thomas K. Cheyne claimed camels were anachronistic in Genesis, thus calling into question the book’s accuracy. So much for breaking news!

Since Cheyne’s time, however, findings have been unearthed disproving his allegations. True, camels weren’t as numerous in antiquity as sheep or goats or dogs. They were specialized “vehicles” for long hauls across the desert. They are listed in Genesis as the last and the least of Abraham’s livestock. But exist they did and domesticated they were.

I was especially impressed by the research of Dr. K. A. Kitchen, Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool in England. As the world’s leading expert on the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period, he has written over 250 books and articles. The Times of London called him “the very architect of Egyptian chronology.” His book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, is a modern classic.

I learned several things from Dr. Kitchen and from other sources. While we wouldn’t expect to find tons of archaeological evidence from camels from 4,000 years ago, we do have a camel skull excavated in Egypt from times associated with the patriarchs, and a separate camel jaw. We have a piece of ancient pottery shaped like a camel. We have a figurine discovered in Babylonia of a kneeling camel. We have references to camels in ancient Sumerian documents and from the excavations at Ugarit. We have pictures of camels painted on shards of pottery from ancient times; and if you think these figures are horses you have to explain away the humps. Camel bones were discovered in the ruins of a household in Syria dating to before the days of Abraham. An ancient text from the general epoch of Abraham was discovered in a city in southeastern Iraq that clearly implies the domestication of camels by its allusions to camels’ milk. We even have a three-feet long portion of a rope braided out of camel’s hair, found near Cairo in the 1920s and dating from before the days of the patriarchs. Lexical lists from Mesopotamia indicate camels were domesticated for desert travel in the days of Abraham, approximately 2000 B.C.

Dr. Kitchen sums it up this way:

“There are other traces of camels much earlier, e.g., in Egypt and Arabia in the third millennium, and also in our overall (Abrahamic) period. But the examples just given should suffice to indicate the true situation: The camel was for long a marginal beast in most of the historical ancient Near East (including Egypt), but it was not wholly unknown or anachronistic before or during (the time of the patriarchs). And there the matter should, on the tangible evidence, rest.”

In his book, The Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Dr. Kitchen additionally wrote, “It is often asserted that the mention of camels and of their use is an anachronism in Genesis. This charge is simply not true, as there is both philological and archaeological evidence for knowledge and use of this animal in the early second millennium B.C. and even earlier.”

In his book, A History of Israel from the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars, Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., adds:

There seems to be more than passing evidence that the camel already was domesticated by patriarchal times in the first half of the second millennium B.C. Support for this concept is gathered from archaeological evidence of skeletal remains along with illustrations of camels at excavation levels belonging to the third and second millennia B.C.”

After reading from a variety of archaeologists and talking to a range of scholars, I came away with greater confidence in the credibility of the book of Genesis than prior to the controversy. I also came away with greater skepticism in the unbiased narrative of news stories relating to biblical discoveries. Call me a skeptic of the skeptics, but it seems to me it might be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some scholars to admit the Bible might be often right after all.

by Robert J. Morgan

10 Signs Your Leadership Is in Trouble

#10 – You care more about what people are doing than who they are becoming.

#9 – You are doing ministry out of memory rather than vision.

#8 – You fear people more than you fear God. (I once heard a person say the equivalent of this is to not be afraid to slap a lion in the face, but cowering in fear in front of a common house cat!)

#7 – You use a strategy to dictate your vision rather than allowing your vision to establish a strategy.

#6 – You honestly cannot remember the last time you sat still long enough to hear God’s voice. (Our ability to lead effectively is directly tied into our ability to hear Him clearly!)

#5 – You refuse to learn from people who are different from you. (So thankful for the reminder from Andy Stanley in one of his recent sermons that Jesus did not allow His theology to get in the way of His ministry.)

#4 – You seek to criticize and tear down anything that is not your own idea. (I believe it was Carl Sagan who said, “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.”)

#3 – In every meeting you attend, you are the smartest person in every single one of them.  (This either means you are insecure and have not surrounded yourself with great people–or you are full of pride and really do believe that you are smarter than everyone…which limits your organization to your own ideas.)

#2 – You pay more attention to the character of others than your own.

#1 – You are trying to “pray away” an obvious issue that God has put in front of you to deal with.

 

7 Ways to Start Your Week Like a Leader

 

gratitude

Monday morning is the most stress-filled morning of the week. Don’t let Monday push you around. Take charge of your week now.

  1. Connect with that person you’ve been meaning to reach out to.  You’re so busy solving issues that you’re neglecting connections. Set up lunch with someone you don’t know, perhaps another leader within your organization. Learn about their challenges and opportunities. Ask how you can be helpful.
  2. Give an encouraging word to high performers.  It’s easy to neglect those who are making the biggest contribution. Stop by their office. Thank them for a job well done. Be specific. Then, turn and walk away. Leave them waiting for the other shoe to drop.
  3. Choose a priority.  What’s important, now? Of all the issues you’re grappling with, which one will make the most difference for your organization. How much time can you give it? Who do you need to involve? What does progress look like?
  4. Address an issue you’ve been putting off.  Your heart-rate increases every time you think of it. Don’t solve it. Just start a conversation.
  5. Identify a team member that is under-performing.  Don’t assume you know why. Ask questions. Express concern for their success, with compassion.
  6. Clarify expectations with someone who disappointed you.  Weak leaders aren’t clear about their expectations. Then, when they’re disappointed, they feel frustrated at others. You are the issue, if you haven’t clarified expectations.
  7. Shift to gratitude when you feel frustrated or worried.  Be grateful for opportunities to serve. You matter most when you’re working on issues that matter.

How can you face your week like a leader?

Which of the suggestions above resonate with you?

Inspired by “Leadership Freak,” Dan Rockwell

20 Things to Give Up for Lent

20-lent-fasts

Yesterday I posted about the various reasons to give up something for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Many Christians “give something up” for Lent, but they might notice it has very little of impact on their life and walk with Christ. I suggest the reason is that we usually give superficial things up, and we do it for all the wrong reasons.

With that said, I want to offer up 20 things you might consider giving up this Lent. And these are things to give up not just for Lent, but for the rest of your life.

  • Guilt – I am loved by Jesus and he has forgiven my sins. Today is a new day and the past is behind.
  • Fear – God is on my side. In him I am more than a conqueror. (See Romans 8)
  • The need to please everyone – I can’t please everyone anyways. There is only one I need to strive to please.
  • Envy – I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
  • Impatience – God’s timing is the perfect timing.
  • Sense of entitlement – The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
  • Bitterness and resentment – The only person I am hurting by holding on to these is myself.
  • Blame – I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.
  • Gossip and negativity – I will give people the benefit of the doubt and not pass along news that is not mine to share. I will also minimize my contact with people who are negative and toxic, bringing other people down.
  • Comparison – I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me.
  • Fear of failure – You don’t succeed without experiencing failure. Just make sure you fail forward.
  • A spirit of poverty – Believe with God that there is always more than enough and never a lack.
  • Feelings of unworthiness – You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your creator. (See Psalm 139)
  • Doubt – Believe God has a plan for you that is beyond anything you could imagine. The future is brighter than you could ever realize.
  • Self-pity – God comforts us in our sorrow so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
  • Retirement – As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. That does not come to an end until the day we die.
  • Excuses – A wise man once said, “If you need an excuse, any excuse will do.”
  • Lack of counsel – Wise decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
  • Pride – Blessed are the humble.
  • Worry – God is in control and worrying will not help.

God has so much more in store for you. But so many of these things above are holding you back from walking in full relationships with Him. Today is a new day!

So there you have it. What else might you add to the list?

(Inspired by blog post from Pastor Phil Ressler, Good Shepherd Church, NJ)

Giving Things Up for Lent

FastingPurpose

It is a tradition during the season of Lent for many people to “give something up.” You may very likely practice this tradition yourself. Some examples of the things people give up include chocolate, technology, television, and Facebook. There are many different reasons people have for giving something up for Lent. As with many spiritual practices, there are some better reasons than others to participate. If you’ve heard yourself use these arguments, you might want to reconsider…

1. Because it’s tradition

There are many good traditions in the Church. Most every tradition begins for a good reason. But there often comes a time when we lose the connection with the purpose of the tradition and we continue the action for the sake of the tradition. If you are not sure what the purpose of the tradition is, then it may be time to stop the tradition or at least go back and re-examine its origins.

2. It helps me relate to the suffering of Jesus

Many believe that making a sacrifice will help them better relate to the sufferings of Jesus. But if you think this through, does giving up Facebook for Lent even begin to come close to helping you relate to the suffering Jesus went through? We are totally missing the point. Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice. His suffering was brutal. The idea of giving up first-world luxuries to help us relate to the suffering he endured is laughable at best and mockery at worst.

3. To help me feel better about myself

For some giving up something for Lent is a way to kick a bad habit. Lent serves as a catalyst for living a healthier and more balanced life. It might serve to help you eat better or make better use of your time. All that is commendable, and I believe God wants us to be good stewards of our lives. But this still falls short of the most meaningful Lenten experience.

So what is the point then? Why would I give something up for Lent?

The whole idea behind giving something up is called FASTING. Fasting is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, Bible reading, and worship. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “When you fast…” He didn’t say, “If you fast…” There was an expectation his followers would be fasting, but it is an often overlooked discipline in the Church today. And because we don’t often teach about it, there is great misunderstanding about it.

So here are some reasons why we fast or “give something up for Lent”:

1. More of God

While the idea of fasting involves taking something away, it is ultimately about more of God. Fasting in its purest form involves foregoing food for a certain period of time. This will lead to a hunger in our stomach which has an ultimate purpose of connecting us with our hunger for God. The time you might have spent preparing a meal and eating the meal can now be spent feasting on God’s Word. In other words, spend the time you would have spent eating by reading the Bible and praying. Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We realize our food and everything else we have comes from God. If God did not provide it, we would not have it (see John 6:68–69). We eliminate that which we think we need for that which we truly need.

2. Removing barriers

Another important aspect of fasting is cutting out that which is hindering our relationship with God. There is nothing more important in this world than our relationship with Him. Yet, we allow so many other things to get in the way. In a recent lectionary reading, we heard Jesus say, “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Matthew 5:29–30). The principle that I think applies here is that we eliminate that which separates us from God. There are many things in life we think we cannot do without, but Jesus says only one thing is needful (Matthew 10:41–42).

3. Re-centering

Finally, fasting has a way of centering us and reminding us what is most important. We have a lot of competing priorities in life. We don’t fast for God’s sake; it is a discipline given to us for our benefit. Fasting points us to what is most important. It helps us to keep the first things the first things. This is why we see the early Church enter a time of fasting prior to making a big decisions (see Acts 13:2–314:23). Fasting helps us better discern God’s priorities for life and ministry.

So how about you? What are some of the reasons you fast or “give something up” during Lent?

Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, I’ll share some ideas of what you might want to give up for Lent (and it might not be what you think).