Archive for self-assessment

Assessing Effectively

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 10:35-45

1.

Whenever I have a little extra time, I like to study congregational development. Congregational development is the term that’s in vogue today; twenty-five years ago it was church growth.

It’s the area of ecclesiology that wrestles with questions like: How can our congregation grow? What does it take for a congregation to attract more worshipers? What clues can we learn from local demographics? And—a question I was confronted with in Yuma—can a congregation of the Episcopal Church thrive in a geographic region where Trader Joe’s won’t open a franchise?

Trader Joe’s wouldn’t come to Yuma because there was not a high enough percentage of college-graduates there. I’d heard this rumor anyway; so I wrote to the company personally to ask if it was true. It was.

And yet the Episcopal Church’s demographic is high on education levels: How strong were an Episcopal parish’s chances for survival in a town whose education levels weren’t good enough for Trader Joe’s?

So you know, I’m not the only one concerned about congregational development. This area of ecclesiology has become a rather prominent focal point of not just the Episcopal Church but of most Christian denominations in the U. S. And not in just one segment, like Catholic, Protestant, mainstream, liberal, conservative, settled, or adaptable. But all of the above!

Numerous books have been published on the subject. If I wanted to attend workshops or other continuing education opportunities on this topic, well, there are so many available I don’t even know where to begin. It’s even a focus of doctoral study: I could go earn a Doctor of Ministry degree in Congregational Development if I were so inclined; I’m not.

Still, I take this area of ecclesiology seriously. In fact, the Bishop’s Committee and I have been working our way through a book this year on congregational development called Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter. We allot a chunk of time in each of our monthly meetings to discuss the ideas presented within.

2.

And today we’re confronted with this story.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus and ask, “Teacher, will you give us whatever we ask?”

And already things are sounding suspicious! I mean, whenever someone approaches me and says something like, “Tim, will you do me a favor?” my defensive radar goes up.

What is this “favor,” exactly, I wonder? What is it that the asker is trying to get me to do? Why hasn’t this person just come out with it and asked me directly? Am being manipulated?

And so I find a way not to say, “Yeah, sure. What do you need? Name it.”

Maybe Jesus’ defensive radar went up too.

Whatever the case, he doesn’t say, “Sure, what do you need? Name it.” Instead, without answering their preemptive request, he asks for clarification: “What is it you want me to do for you?”

“Oh,” they say—I imagine a little sheepishly—“well, you know, nothing much; just that one of us gets to sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. No big deal. Won’t you do this for us?”

James and John’s is a recognizably audacious request. We could even call it rash. And thus there’s a certain tension here.

These two brothers are arguing about who’s the best, about who deserves to be in a place of honor in the kingdom. And—as if they didn’t already know—for the third time in this Gospel Jesus tells them what they must do to inherit the kingdom of God: be servant of all; be like a little child.

Now—though we’ve heard it all before—many times!—aren’t we a lot like James and John? Aren’t we rather audacious and rash in our faith and practice? When we go about our daily routines, isn’t it all too easy to put ourselves first and consider others only as an afterthought, if at all?

And what should we make of congregational development—how St. Thomas might become bigger and better; how St. Thomas might become more known in and around Temecula and Murrieta; how St. Thomas might pay off its mortgage once and for all?

Isn’t this similar to what James and John are doing?

We want a kind of glory for ourselves. We like to be in places of honor. We crave accolades. These are natural parts of our human condition.

Wouldn’t it be great, then, if St. Thomas became known as the best all-round parish in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego?

Heck yes!

Well, then, how are we gonna get there?

And so we think long and hard about congregational development.

But . . . as today’s Gospel shows us, we shouldn’t be self-absorbed, fighting for the top spot.

3.

This brings up two difficult questions. On the individual level, how do we combat self-absorption? On the corporate level, why should we concern ourselves with congregational development; isn’t it simply a self-serving exercise? (Spoiler alert: no, it’s not a self-serving exercise.)

Let’s take a step backwards, get our noses out of the details of the Gospel for a moment, and think about the bigger picture here.

Jesus rebuked James and John for striving to be on top; and yet, in the church history Hall of Fame, these two disciples in fact hold some of the top spots of all the saints. Jesus rebuked them for wanting to be the greatest; they nevertheless became some of the greatest.

As a parish, we shouldn’t be competitive about how well-known we are or might become because of our ministries; though St. Thomas may actually become a model parish in the Diocese of San Diego.

Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

And we nod our heads meaningfully, knowing this will in fact happen, though not as James and John envision it.

The bigger picture here is about effective self-assessment; which is different than self-absorption.

In today’s Gospel, James and John are good at being self-absorbed; but poor at self-assessment.

Like James and John, it’s natural for us to see the faults in other people; but not so easy to see our own. On the other hand, it’s very easy for us to see our own achievements and accomplishments, but much more difficult to see the achievements and accomplishments of others. It’s easy to criticize others and praise ourselves.

So, it’s only after James and John learn to deny themselves and assess themselves effectively that they are able to go out and accomplish Jesus’ mission—which makes them two of the greatest in the Faith Hall of Fame today.

What we should be after is effective self-assessment.

This is a skill that does not come naturally to us. It takes much effort; much practice.

For it to be effective, we look outward, putting others first; not inward, at our needs, wants, superiorities, entitlements, and biases. We don’t come to Jesus asking him to do something for us because, hey, we deserve it. Instead we come asking humbly, “How can I become a servant to all?” “How can I receive the kingdom as a child?”

4.

And this is precisely why I’m leading the Bishop’s Committee through Rebuilt: effective self-assessment! I don’t want St. Thomas to be self-focused; rather, I want the leadership to assess our congregation effectively.

But combatting self-absorption begins not with us as a congregation or even with the leadership but with all of us, you and me, as individuals.

Unless you and I learn to consider the needs of others as on par with our own needs; unless you and I rid ourselves of the senses of superiority and entitlement that tend to accompany our wealth, education, and ethnicity (I deserve to shop at Trader Joe’s); unless you and I see no distinction between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free as Christ sees no distinction—unless you and I, as individuals, see true equality between the faces seated around us and ourselves, we cannot move forward as the community God has called us to be in Christ Jesus.

Like James and John, it is only after we break free of self-absorption that we will be able to assess ourselves effectively—first as individuals and then as a community.

What is the purpose of the church? Is it not to go out into all the world and make disciples, teaching, baptizing, and healing? If I interpret this purpose correctly, then the church exists not for the benefit of its members but for those outside. It’s not about you and me; it’s about everybody else.

*****

How might we, St. Thomas Episcopal Church and School, accomplish this mission?

First, we rid ourselves of perceived entitlements and ways in which we feel superior to others; and thus receive the kingdom of God as a little child.

And, second, we seek to meet the true needs and hurts of those in the world around us; and thus become better servant-leaders.

These two actions are at the core of effective self-assessment. These two actions must be the focal point of every discussion we have about congregational development.

Effective Assessment

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2015 by timtrue

FatherTim

Mark 10:35-45

I’ve been studying a lot lately about congregational development. Congregational development is the term that’s in vogue today; twenty-five years ago it was church growth.

Do you know what I mean by this term?  It’s the area of ecclesiology—the theology of the church—that wrestles with questions like: How can our congregation grow?  What does it take for a congregation to attract more worshipers?  What clues can be learn from local demographics to help a congregation grow?  And—a question I’ve been confronted with recently—can a congregation of the Episcopal Church thrive in a geographic region where Trader Joe’s won’t open a franchise?

Okay, now we’re getting personal!  As a rector of an Episcopal parish in a town where there is in fact no Trader Joe’s, I have begun to take this area of ecclesiology seriously.  How can St. Paul’s grow?  How can we become, well, bigger and better?

And I’m not the only one studying.  This area of ecclesiology has become a rather prominent focal point of not just the Episcopal Church but of most Protestant Christian denominations in America.  And not in just one segment, like mainstream, liberal, conservative, settled, or adaptable.  But in all of the above!

Numerous books are published on the subject annually.  If I wanted to attend workshops or other continuing education opportunities on the topic of congregational development, well, there are so many available I don’t even know where to begin.  It has even become a focus of doctoral study: one of the terminal degree options I could pursue is a Doctor of Ministry in Congregational Development.

So, again, I’ve begun to take this area of ecclesiology seriously.  I’m reading a book on the subject right now called Owl Sight, by Russ Crabtree, a well-known expert on congregational development.  And later this week I will be attending a workshop on this subject at our diocesan office.  I’m giving congregational development some serious thought.

Then I’m confronted—we all are—with today’s passage.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus and ask, “Teacher, will you give us whatever we ask?”

And right here, already, things are sounding suspicious!  I mean, whenever someone approaches me and says something like, “Tim, will you do me a favor?” my defenses go up.

What is this “favor,” exactly, I wonder?  What is it that the asker is trying to get me to do?  Why hasn’t this person just come out with it and asked me directly?  Am I being manipulated?

That, and I’m also remembering in the back of my mind that Bible story about Herod and his stepdaughter:

Daughter: Daddy, will you do me a favor?

Herod: Sure, I’ll give you anything you like, dear, up to half my kingdom.

Daughter: Okay, then.  How about the head of John the Baptist on a platter?

And so I generally refrain from saying, “Yeah, sure.  What do you need?”

Maybe Jesus’s defenses went up too.  At any rate, he doesn’t say, “Sure, what do you need?  Name it”; instead, without answering their preemptive request, he asks for clarification: “What is it you want me to do for you?”

“Oh,” they say—I imagine at least a little sheepishly—“well, you know, nothing much; just that one of us gets to sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.  No big deal.  Won’t you do this for us?”

James and John’s is a recognizably audacious question.  We could even call it rash.  And thus there’s tension here.

These two brothers are arguing about who’s the best, about who deserves to be in a place of honor in the kingdom.  And—as if they didn’t already know—for the third time in this Gospel Jesus tells them what they must do to inherit the kingdom of God: be servant of all; be like a little child.

Now—though we’ve heard it all before—many times!—aren’t we a lot like James and John?  Aren’t we rather audacious and rash in our faith and practice?  When we go about our daily routines, isn’t it all too easy to put ourselves first and consider others only as an afterthought, if at all?

And what should we make of congregational development—how St. Paul’s might become bigger and better?  Isn’t this similar to what James and John are doing?

We want glory.  We like to be in places of honor.  We crave accolades.  Wouldn’t it be great if St. Paul’s became known as the best all-round parish in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego?  Well, how are we going to get there?

But we shouldn’t be self-absorbed, fighting for the top spot.  This passage of scripture—along with so many others!—demonstrates that.

So: on the individual level, how do we combat self-absorption?  And on the corporate level, why should we concern ourselves with congregational development?  Isn’t it simply a self-serving exercise?

Now, here’s the bigger picture. James and John were rebuked for striving to be on top; and yet, in the annals of church history, they are in fact some of the top saints.  Jesus rebuked them for wanting to be the greatest; they nevertheless became some of the greatest.

As a parish, we shouldn’t be competitive about how well-known we are or might become because of our ministries; though St. Paul’s may possibly be or become a model parish in the Diocese of San Diego.

Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

And we are left thinking it will all in fact happen as they say, though not as they envision.

Do you see?  The bigger picture here is about effective self-assessment.

James and John were poor self-assessors.  They looked around themselves and knew they were in an exceptional situation.  Here was Jesus, their mentor and friend, perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of the world, and they’d been with him, faithful followers since the very beginning.

They thought pretty highly of themselves; and on that basis, their own, limited self-assessment, they thought they deserved to have the two most honorable places in glory.

We, too, are poor self-assessors.  It’s very easy for us to see the faults in other people; but not so easy to see our own.  On the other hand, it’s very easy for us to see our own achievements and accomplishments—we’ve experienced them first-hand, after all—but much more difficult to see the accomplishments of others.  It’s easy to criticize others and praise ourselves.  Human nature comes with blinders included.

What we should be after in self-assessment, however, is the other way round.  For self-assessment to be effective, we must look outward, putting others first; not inward.  We don’t come to Jesus asking him to do something for us because, hey, we deserve it.  Instead we come asking humbly, “What must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?” “How can I become a servant to all?” “How can I receive the kingdom as a child?”

Ask Jesus these things in prayer; ask Jesus these things by asking those saints among us whom you trust for counsel.  Look outward, not inward.  Be vulnerable.  Put others first.

And this is precisely why I’m reading Russ Crabtree’s book and planning to attend a diocesan workshop later this week.

I’ve been here at St. Paul’s six months now; and, quite frankly, I like what I see.  St. Paul’s is a wonderful parish.  Two strengths especially stand out to me.  One is that we are a very hospitable folk.  Any time a newcomer visits, he or she is made to feel welcome.  The people of St. Paul’s very much care about other people, all people.  This is a very positive thing.

The other strength I call out is flexibility.  Some changes have been made in the half-year I’ve been here.  And not all of them have been small!  But, because of the flexibility that is woven into the fabric of this parish, they have all run very smoothly.

These are two great strengths for any church: hospitality and flexibility.  And if I’m only looking inwardly it’s really tempting to say, “Hey, Jesus, are you noticing what’s happening here in Yuma?  Doesn’t St. Paul’s deserve an awesome place in your kingdom?”

But this would be poor self-assessment.  Let’s assess ourselves; but let’s be effective in our assessments.  For in doing so will we learn to be the servants of all, see as through the eyes of a child, and inherit the kingdom of heaven.

2015 Lent 27

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by timtrue

Depiction_of_a_futuristic_city

Jeremiah 23:1-8

In seminary I was required to do a lot of self-assessment.

For the record, self-assessment is not to be confused with self-absorption.  Both self-absorption and self-assessment are focused inwardly, on oneself.  But self-absorption focuses on self to the exclusion of all others.  A self-absorbed person is unaware of much of the surrounding world.  One focuses on oneself without regard to others.  The goal of self-assessment, on the other hand, is to broaden one’s understanding of the world starting with the person one knows best: oneself.

Maybe a simpler way to state it is: a self-absorbed person focuses only on his or her strengths; whereas a self-assessing person deeply understands his or her own weaknesses as well as strengths, and thereby increasingly understands the surrounding world.

Anyway, one of the batteries my classmates and I took to assess ourselves is called StrengthsFinder.  I’m sure you can look it up on Google if you’re interested.

The idea with StrengthsFinder is to find one’s top five strengths from a list of something like thirty-five.  Some of the words on this list are Achiever, Ideation, Thinker, and Woo.  They’re more or less self-explanatory.

With the top five strengths of each person listed, with only thirty-five to choose from, and with a class size of twenty-five students, you would be right if you guessed there was considerable overlap.  One of my top five was Thinker, for instance; which also showed up in several others’ top five.

All this is to point out how unusual I thought it, then, when Futuristic made my top five but no one else’s.  I thought it unusual because thinking into the future and making plans thereby is a part of my natural make-up, a part of who I am, something that comes second-nature to me, something I don’t have to think about because it just happens.  But it also struck me as unusual because this thinking that comes so naturally to me was apparently not something so natural for other people.

Of course, there’s a flipside to being naturally futuristic: I can escape–or plan my next escape at least, and then derive a good deal of joy from my future plan while enduring present trials.  In other words, there is potentially a great weakness in this strength too.

So–confession here–learning this about myself has led me to question whether some of my past moves have been related to this potential weakness.  Did I ever leave one teaching job for another, for instance, because I was experiencing interpersonal struggles with a principal and hoping to find a better boss-employee relationship?  But this is real self-assessment; knowing this about myself will help me guard from making such a mistake down the road, in the future.

Enough about me.  Now onto Jeremiah.

Today he turns his attention to the future.  Israel’s present situation is bad.  He’s been telling us this for twenty-two chapters while also telling us, now and again, here and there, that Israel’s situation had been better at one time or another in the past.  Still, the present seems pretty hopeless.

The one way out of this hopelessness is to repent, he’s been saying.

But, really, I’m sympathetic to Israel’s plight.  How easy is it to change tack when you’re browbeaten day after day?

If you’re at all like me (dang!  I’ve slipped back into self-assessment again!), in a situation like this I start planning my escape.  I’m not going to change my personality because someone’s browbeating me.  I’m not going to change my habits very easily either–especially the older I get!  But I can change the situation, get out from under the browbeater’s stick!  And the more seemingly hopeless the situation the more I plan my escape until it becomes my new reality.  Making future plans gives me hope.

Well, that’s where Jeremiah turns today–finally! now, at last, I can take a deep breath!–to hope in the future.

“The days are coming,” Jeremiah tells his people, “when . . . Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.”

God will do a bunch of great things for Israel, the Prophet says.  God will bring people back into community and give them wise, competent, just and righteous leaders to shepherd them.

That’s enough to give me hope.

But I realize I’m not like everyone else.  I was the only person to see Futuristic in my top five.  Which leads me to wonder, is it enough to give Israel hope?  Is it enough to give you hope?

If you’re not futuristic, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.