Do You Still Dream?

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IMG_6220I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to walk through the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, DC. It was a powerful experience for me, especially reading the quotes engraved around the memorial. His dream and life message is even more relevant today in light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country.

Who among us hasn’t been moved by Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic speech? And who among us has not felt intimidated by the scope of his dream?

I believe that God is a God of dreams; He has big dreams, and He invites us to participate in His dreams for our world. I believe God places dreams in our hearts to lead us towards His purpose for our life, but dreaming itself is only the first step to walking into our purpose. Recently, Stephen Mansfield spoke at my church on the topic of “Dreamers of the Day.” His main point was that there has been much teaching on destiny and purpose, but very little on process, and he describes a six-step process that God uses to bring people into the fulfillment of their dreams:

  1. Receive the dreamIMG_6391
  2. Embody the dream
  3. Redefine the dream
  4. Equip for the dream
  5. Declare the dream
  6. Live out the dream

We see all six stages demonstrated in the life of Nehemiah. In the days of the Babylonian and Persian captivity of Judah, Nehemiah had a dream to see Jerusalem rebuilt, and we can trace the development of his dream into reality in the Book of Nehemiah.

  1. Receive: He received a report from his brother about the condition of Jerusalem, which inspired him to pray (1:4, 11).
  2. Embody: When given the opportunity, he boldly requested a leave of absence from his position as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes in order to pursue the fulfillment of this dream himself (2:4-8).
  3. Redefine: When he arrived at Jerusalem, he discovered that achieving his dream would be no simple task and that there would be severe opposition (4:1-3, 7-8, 11).
  4. Equip: Because of the threat, Nehemiah equipped the builders with not only building tools but also swords and spears and set a guard for the workmen so that they could complete the work safely (4:16-23).
  5. Declare: In spite of the opposition, Nehemiah was able to inspire his work force by reminding them of what was at stake, namely their families (4:14).
  6. Live Out: Finally, Nehemiah was able to live out his dream – “So the wall was finished . . . in fifty-two days” (6:15).

To be honest, I am impressed that the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt in fifty-two days. The dreams I have will take much longer than that!

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

This year, 2014, I have begun to dream again, and I have been inspired with a fresh vision and purpose for my life. This has really served to energize me and motivate me to set some pretty audacious goals for 2015 and beyond. Some of these are MLK-sized dreams that I have only recently received. I am committing this year to defining and embodying these dreams.

The world needs us to become everything God has designed us to be. What dream has God placed in your heart? What stage are you in towards pursuing that dream – or have you faced opposition and given up on your dream? What are the next steps you need to take to see that dream become a reality?

May 2015 be the year we pursue our God-given dreams wholeheartedly.

 

Links and Resources

Stephen Mansfield: Dreamers of the Day

6 Bible verses about dreams

34 Bible verses about dreams and visions

35 Bible verses about purpose

A Key to a Culturally Relevant Church

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As someone who has spent most of her career teaching in short-term, intensive language programs, I have worked with many different classes, and I have found that each class has its own personality. Most groups are simply a collection of individuals largely focused on their own individual goals; however, occasionally the class comes together and forms a dynamic and supportive learning community. As the instructor, I do what I can to encourage the development of a community, but it also depends heavily on the personalities in the class.IMG_6645

I have seen the same patterns in Christian organizations and church groups. In some churches, people simply interact at Sunday service but have little or no contact during the week, while in other churches, the members create strong bonds of friendship, frequently meeting for dinner during the week and sometimes becoming roommates.

It is not always clear to me what makes one group of individuals come together and what prevents another group. However, David Logan’s TED Talk has given me some tools to start exploring this issue. He discusses group behavior from a “tribal” perspective, defining “tribes” as smaller groups of 20 to 150 people.

Based on organizational research that focused on observable language and behavior, his book Tribal Leadership, co-authored with John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, identifies five stages of “tribal” culture based on the language used and the actions taken by members of the “tribe” (the following labels are my own):

Stage 1: Survival Mode.  People in a stage 1 culture have a sense of hopelessness and despair and will do anything it takes to survive, even if it means resorting to violence. David Logan says that this is the culture of gangs and of prisons; about 2% of organizations are in this stage.

Stage 2: Victim Mentality.  While people in stage 2 cultures have moved beyond mere survival, they still have little or no hope for their circumstances to improve, leading to very negative attitudes. I believe most people in such cultures have simply given up and are going through the motions. About one quarter of organizations are at this stage.

While I have seen individual students in these stages, it is rare for an entire class or church group to be here. However, the next stage is very common.

Stage 3: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). At this point, people have moved beyond hopelessness and helplessness and see the value of putting in an effort. However, at this stage, it is all about personal advancement, even at the expense of peers and colleagues. Nearly half of all organizations are at this stage.

At this stage, I can see the importance of the role of attitude, that intangible quality of people that influences their thoughts and behaviors. John Maxwell, in his book Attitude 101, lists the signs of a bad attitude, which I believe make a very good description of someone in a stage 3 culture:IMG_6651

  • inability to admit wrongdoing
  • failing to forgive
  • petty jealousy
  • the “disease of me”
  • a critical spirit
  • a desire to hog all the credit

Stage 4: Group Cohesion. At this stage, people begin bonding over shared values. It could be as lofty as a shared mission (end human trafficking like the organization A21) or as quirky as a personality trait (be a little weird like the company Zappos). Because of the shared values and vision, people form bonds and are willing to collaborate and cooperate to meet their goals; 22% of organizations reach this stage.

Stage 5: The “Mountaintop.” At this stage of culture, the group no longer forms around a limited goal while comparing themselves to other groups; they are now ready to take on global transformation and compare themselves to what is possible. Only 2% of organizations reach this stage.

In these last two stages, we see healthy relationships being formed, whether within the group or beyond the group. In his book Relationships 101, John Maxwell lists five characteristics of solid relationships. While his focus was primarily on one-on-one relationships, I believe these characteristics can be applied to group cultures as well.

  • Respect
  • Shared experiences
  • Trust
  • Reciprocity
  • Mutual enjoyment

I would argue that Christians are called to develop Stage 5 cultures, and I believe the early church had a stage 5 culture based on solid relationships. The Book of Acts recounts how the first disciples of Christ formed a community that changed not only the individuals within that community but eventually the entire world.

  • They frequently “broke bread” and prayed together (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
  • They shared everything in common and trusted each other (Acts 4:32-36).
  • They bonded through the persecution of the Jewish leadership (Acts 5:41).
  • They worked together to solve community problems (Acts 6:1-7).

As I learned about the concepts in Tribal Leadership, I was not surprised that the majority of organizations have “me-centric” stage 3 cultures. This is the pervasive characteristic of modern American culture, one I believe needs to change. Christians are meant to be known by their unity, but Christianity in the United States today is too often characterized by bitter divisions and self-righteous criticism. If the American church is going to have an impact on the surrounding culture, we must develop a Stage 5 “tribe,” first within individual churches and then among the churches of America and beyond.

 

Links and Resources:

David Logan’s TED Talk Tribal Leadership 

Book review of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Minute with Maxwell: Relationships

31 Bible Verses about Relationships

Minute with Maxwell: Attitude

35 Bible Verses about Attitude

 

To Live A Well-Connected Life

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My first year teaching in S. Korea was challenging in several ways. Not only did I have to adapt to a new culture and language environment, but I also had to adapt to a new student population. I had previously taught college-age international students in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but that first year in Korea I found myself teaching classes to elementary school students.

St. Louis Botanical Garden

St. Louis Botanical Garden

On top of that, for most of my classes, the mothers of my students sat along the walls of the classroom observing the class. I did the best I could to deliver lessons that were full of content and language practice, but in the end students started leaving my classes because they were bored. In fact, my first teaching contract was not renewed for a second year, primarily because I failed to connect with my students.

As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher, my focus was on the content of my lessons. However, I needed to understand the specific needs and wants of the individual students in my class. For my elementary students, this was their need to have fun and play as well as learn English. By the time I moved to my third teaching position in Korea, working with mid-level managers in an international corporation, I finally began to understand the needs of my students well enough to connect with them in ways that led to their success and mine.

Until I learned to take the students’ perspectives into consideration, I was unable to connect with my students in ways that encouraged them to engage in the lessons I prepared. In their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston identify a primary cause of disconnection as the “blind spot” in our brains. Because we naturally approach any issue from our own perspective, we fail to consider other perspectives, which creates a mental “blind spot.” They further describe four traps most people fall into when it comes to connecting and influencing others:

  1. the fight or flight response – “your nervous system … doesn’t know the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an tyrannical boss” leading you to either respond aggressively (fight) or avoid the situation (flight)
  2. the habit handicap – when stressed or challenged, we resort to our “comfort zone” of behaviors that have worked in the past, but which may not be best in the current circumstances
  3. error blindness – being wrong feels just like being right, and it isn’t until we realize our error that we can correct it
  4. the double curse of knowledge – even when you are right, you may find it difficult to explain what you find obvious to a less knowledgeable person.

I think I experienced all four when I moved to Korea!

Through trial and error I eventually learned how to connect with my students. However, I now recognize that John Maxwell has summed up these strategies of how to connect with others in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

  1. Connect with yourself – know who you are and be confident in your skills and abilities
  2. Know your audience – learn the goals, hopes, and dreams of the people you are working with
  3. Go to where they are – meet people in their circumstances, or as Ullmen and Goulston say, in “their there”
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – being transparent is essential to creating a connection
  5. Offer direction and hope – present the positive and optimistic view; there are enough negative voices in the world
  6. Live your message – practice what you preach and you can build credibility
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – show people you care about them and their circumstances
  8. Believe in them – encourage and support people, even at their lowest.

These guidelines have become the backbone of my teaching style.IMG_6764

Many of the Old Testament prophets failed to connect with the people of Israel and Judah, in part due to the nature of their messages of repentance, messages the people simply weren’t interested in hearing. However, a notable exception is Daniel who practiced connected influence as an advisor to the kings of Babylon and Persia.

  1.  Connect with yourself – Daniel had such a clear view of himself that he asked for an exception when given “the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:5, 8-16).
  2. Know your audience – when Daniel first approached the chief eunuch about his diet, he demonstrated a concern for the man’s predicament (Daniel 1:8-10).
  3. Go to where they are – Daniel suggested a 10-day trial of a vegetable diet to limit the risk to the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:12).
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – when Daniel came before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream, he was clear that he didn’t have the interpretation because he was wiser than any other but because God had revealed it to him (Daniel 2:27-30).
  5. Offer direction and hope – when Daniel gave a negative interpretation for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, he also gave counsel for how the king could avoid the coming personal disaster (Daniel 4:19-27).
  6. Live your message – when the lower government officials tried to discredit Daniel, they couldn’t find any opening to accuse him of wrongdoing (Daniel 6:4).
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – Daniel humbly served those set above him as well as those under his authority (Daniel 1:8-13; 2:14-18, 24-30, 49; 4:19, 27; 5:17; 6:1-3).
  8. Believe in them – Daniel consistently encouraged the best in the kings he served (Daniel 2:37-38; 4:19, 27; 6:21)

Connecting with others is an important step towards developing a sphere of influence. Daniel exerted a gentle influence upon the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia by connecting with the rulers of those countries. We, too, can exert a similar influence upon those in our sphere of influence if we follow his example and truly begin to connect with those around us.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Sunday message by Pastor Jeff Abyad on the life of Daniel: Thriving in Captivity

 

 

 

Is It Possible to Influence a Culture?

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After several years of teaching in S. Korea, I found I had learned how to connect with my Korean students, so when I was given the position of lead instructor and had to connect with all forty students in the program, I was able to do so effectively.

at Green Springs Gardens

at Green Springs Gardens

However, I was not very effective when it came to leading the teaching team; I had a harder time connecting with the other English teachers. When conflict developed between two of the instructors who were teaching the same course, I attempted to resolve the situation by sitting down with them together and talking through it. Both instructors behaved professionally and seemed receptive to my suggestions. Imagine my surprise when, ultimately, nothing changed. The two instructors continued not sharing information even though they sat next to each other in the office. It was at this point that I began to question my ability to lead the teaching team.

Because I had not connected well with my teaching team, I had no influence with them. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell lists seven factors that impact our ability to influence others.

  1. Relationships – who you know. Most people are not easily influenced by strangers; the better you know a person, the greater your potential influence on that person.
  2. Knowledge – what you know. Experts in their field often wield strong influence, whether it is as an expert witness or providing an endorsement for public policy.
  3. Character – who you are. When you are a person of integrity who keeps your word, people begin to trust you and allow themselves to be influenced by you.
  4. Ability – what you can do. When you can demonstrate skills and abilities that are relevant to the problem at hand, people will tend to follow your suggestions.
  5. Intuition – what you feel. When your education, experience, and gifting converge, you may find that your ability to influence increases.
  6. Past success – what you’ve done. Even more than experience, a successful track record will give greater weight to your words.
  7. Experience – where you’ve been. Knowing that you have faced similar situations in the past, many people will allow themselves to be influenced by your present recommendations.

The fact that Christianity is one of the most widely spread religions speaks of the influence exerted by Jesus.

  • Relationships: He established very strong relationships with his twelve disciples (John 6:67-68).
  • Knowledge: His teaching drew vast crowds (Luke 14:25).
  • Character: The people recognized His character and authority (Matthew 7:29).
  • Ability: He proved time and time again that He had the ability to meet people where they were and to bring them into a more abundant life (John 10:10).
  • Intuition: Jesus knew just the right thing to say to each person to impact them for the Kingdom of God. (Nicodemus – John 3, the Samaritan woman at the well – John 4).
  • Past success: He was successful in accomplishing everything He set out to do, from healing the sick and delivering the oppressed to feeding the five thousand and redeeming mankind (John 17:4).
  • Experience: He is God become Man, and so has experienced temptations just like we do (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

Many people I talk to have a desire to see change, but they feel they have little or no influence in these areas. However, there is hope; in their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston list four steps people can take to increase their influence.

  1. Go for great outcomes. This is accomplished through focusing on results, reputation, and relationship.
  2. Listen past your blind spot. When you are focused on your own goals, “your here,” you are not able to connect with people from their perspective, “their there.” This requires “connective listening” (or as Julian Treasure calls it, “conscious listening”) – focusing on understanding the other’s perspective, not on preparing a response or defending your position.
  3. Engage them in their there. When you “get it” (the other person’s situation), “get them” (their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, and dreams), and “get their path to progress” (options and alternatives that empower), you are able to truly connect and exert positive influence.
  4. When you’ve done enough, do more. This means going above and beyond people’s expectations in ways that make you memorable.

According to research by Serge Moscovici in the field of social psychology, a consistent minority can have significant influence even when it is not particularly powerful or prestigious. This is good news for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the thought of influencing culture change. By increasing both our personal and community influence, we can create a more unified voice, and the Church can return to a position of influence in our culture.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Coursera course in Social Psychology, taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University; information about minority influence from lecture 3.4: Group Pressure and Conformity Part 2.

“Moscovici and Minority Influence” on SimplyPsychology.org

100 Bible Verses about Influence

44 Bible Verses about Positive Influence

 

 

Lessons in Influence from the Life of Daniel

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Recently, Pastor Jeff Abyad spoke on how Daniel became a man of influence in ancient Babylonia.  There are some interesting parallels to how Christians today can begin to influence the culture around us.

Diversity as a Measure of Leadership Ability

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Roselinde Torres, in her TED Talk “What it takes to be a great leader,” proposes three questions to measure your fitness as a 21st century leader.  Her second question refers to the degree of diversity found within personal and professional networks, highlighting the importance of connecting with “people that are very different than you” (a theme of a few of my past posts).