Why I Value Poetry

I know pastors who read nothing but books on the Bible, the church, and pastoring. I know leaders who read little else besides books on leadership. In fact, I know leaders and pastors who read very little of anything. I know only a few who read poetry.

Too bad. Because I think there is an intersection--an overlap--between the poet's craft and the pastor's task, as M. Craig Barnes so ably demonstrated in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet). I believe that reading poetry can help a person think more clearly and creatively. It improves the reader's vocabulary. It expands a person's vistas and challenges his or her assumptions. It exposes the reader to literary figures and devices such as metaphor. It increases a speaker's verbal intelligence and precision, giving preachers in particular more (and better) tools. And it can help leaders become more skilled at wrestling with and simplifying complex ideas and concepts. And those are just a few of the benefits.

So, with that in mind, I herewith offer my ten favorite poets:

1. William Shakespeare
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player..."

2. Robert Frost
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

3. Emily Dickinson
"Each life converges to some centre/Expressed or still..."

4. Wendell Berry
"Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling..."

5. Mary Oliver
"I thought the earth remembered me..."

6. Robinson Jeffers
"The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those/That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant..."

7. Christina Rossetti
"Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,/My fair one, come away.'"

8. Albert Orsborn
"I know Thee as Thou art/And what Thy healing name..."

9. Edgar Lee Masters
"Out of me unworthy and unknown /The vibrations of deathless music..."

10. Richard Wilbur
"I can’t forget/How she stood at the top of that long marble stair/Amazed..."

(the picture above is my crude attempt at sketching Robert Frost in my journal...which suggests another "Why I Value" post, now that I think about it)

Sound a Clear and Consistent Call

The Apostle Paul wasn't writing a treatise on leadership when he said, in 1 Corinthians 14:8, "If the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle?" (NLT). But the principal does apply. Good leaders give clear and consistent messages. This point is driven home well by a recent guest post by Nicole Lipkin on the Great Leadership blog:
We all have those days when our words and actions don't come out the way we intended. Or we take our stress out on others. We intend to give a compliment or a simple criticism and it instead sounds more critical than we really feel. Between friends, a simple “I’m sorry, I’m just stressed lately” can repair these missteps. Our friends know that just because we were their loyal confidante one day and a nutcase the next is not necessarily a reflection on the friendship itself. The workplace, however, is a more delicate environment and a simple “I’m sorry” may not be as effective, or even appropriate if we are talking about the dynamic between boss and employee.

Though we hate to admit it, our bosses can change the emotional tone of our day with a couple words, either encouraging or critical. Thus, it is extremely important for a boss to watch how they reinforce their employees’ behavior and maintain consistency. Inconsistent bossing can turn a great employee who is excited to come to work every day into a disgruntled nonplussed employee who allows him/herself to become complacent and disinterested.

If a boss changes their tune on a daily basis, an employee will become confused. If an employee receives a “Great job!” one day and then a nitpicking criticism the next on a similar performance, the employee will simply be confused. Of course the boss may not have any idea that they did any damage. The boss may have spilled coffee on themselves on the way to work, someone may have looked at them the wrong way, or maybe there is trouble at home. Then, they got to work, saw a small error in the employee’s performance and – instead of leading with the positive – they tell the employee the small thing that was wrong. The boss returns to their work, clueless that damage was just inflicted; the employee returns to his/her desk dejected and baffled.

Over time, repetitive inconsistent behavior like this on the part of the boss can lead to learned helplessness in the employee. Essentially learned helplessness means the employee once thought of themselves as competent and good at what they do, but because of their boss’ inconsistent reinforcement, their opinion of themselves degenerates and they’ve come to think of themselves as incompetent. This of course can all be avoided by self-awareness.

Bosses can take a moment when they arrive to work (or whenever necessary) to self-evaluate their mindset, see where there thoughts lay to make sure they don’t project their own whimsical emotions on others. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being in a bad mood or giving an employee constructive criticism. What we’re after is ensuring that whatever reinforcement we give is constructive and is based on the job done and not an irrelevant fleeting emotion that we brought into the workplace. We’re all human, things happen, but we can get better at training our minds, watching them. 
There is a phenomenon called Emotional Contagion that deals specifically with this concentric projection of attitudes and feelings and it is very simple: if you smile and are positive around someone, they will feel good and most likely carry that positivity to the next place they go, which can create a ripple effect. It’s pretty amazing when you conceive how powerful a small positive gesture can be. The same ripple effect can of course occur when projecting negativity. Want proof? Take a moment and think about whether you feel good or bad around a positive person and/or negative person. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure this one out.

Let’s get scientific for a second. Sigal Barsade (2002), currently a Professor of Management at The Wharton School, conducted seminal work into the positive and negative effects of the emotional dance that takes place in every group. For the study, she assigned 94 business school undergraduates to 29 different groups ranging in size from two to four participants, including one ringer (otherwise known as a confederate), an actor from the drama department. Each group would decide how to allocate money from a bonus pool. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, the ringer was instructed by Barsade to act out different mood and energy levels, such as cheerful enthusiasm, serene warmth, hostile irritability and depressed sluggishness.

Barsarde found that the participants acted differently, depending on the actor’s performance. The actor’s cheerfulness made the group more cheerful; the actor’s anger made the group angrier. Positive emotions created more cooperation; negative emotions increased conflict and decreased cooperative decision-making. 
Barsade observed, “People are walking mood inductors, continuously influencing the moods and then the judgments and behaviors of others.” The effect occurs in every type of organization, in every industry, and in every large and small work group. 

Consistency creates stability and a stable work environment promotes well-being among workers, both superior and subordinate alike. It is similar to a family dynamic. It has long been accepted that a stable home is the best home for a child to grow up in. It creates the nurturing backbone for a child to fulfill their potential. An unstable home can lead to, well, I think we’re all aware of the effects of unstable homes. The workplace is no different. It’s a kind of family.

Nicole Lipkin is a business and organizational psychologist, consultant, and speaker, holding a doctorate in Clinical Psychology as well as an MBA. She is the president of Equilibria Leadership Consulting and the founder of Equilibria Psychological and Consultation Services. In addition to her new book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, Nicole is the co-author of Y in the Workplace. Nicole has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, CBS, Fox Business News, and other high-profile media outlets. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Why I Value Technology

My name is Bob, and I'm a technology addict.

I'm not as bad as some (I won't mention any names, Steve Sjogren). And my cheapness inhibits me from being even more obsessive in acquiring and using technology. But I value technology because it helps me....immensely. Let me tell you some of the best ways I use technology.

1. It helps me pray. Many mornings, I pray the morning office while I exercise with a daily podcast from an Episcopal Church in Maryland. I also have an ebook version of Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours Pocket Edition on my iPhone and iPad, which I use when I travel (I was once kicked out of an empty ballroom on an upper floor of the Hyatt in Indianapolis, where I had found some solitude for prayer until a hotel staff member very apologetically gave me the bum's rush).

2. It helps me remember. When I make an appointment or schedule an event, I typically add an alert (or two) so my phone or computer will remind me an hour or two (or even a day, sometimes) in advance. Since my "forgetter" is much stronger than my "rememberer," this one advantage of technology is immensely valuable to me.

3. It expands my awareness of current and cultural events. I had quit reading newspapers several years ago (for several reasons). But with free USAToday, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal apps on my iPad, I'm reading the news again.

4. It broadens my reading. The iPad is the best reading device I've ever enjoyed. And, while I love me a good classic book made of real paper, the convenience and portability of the iPad (and numerous book and reading apps that offer many books for free, and others very cheaply) can't be beat--from Is the Bible True...Really? (which I recently downloaded) to Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye (which I recently finished) to more than a thousand full-color children's books to read with my grandchildren. And many free or affordable audiobooks, too, via iTunes and the iPhone/iPad app "Audiobooks."

5. It organizes me. For more than thirty years now, I have used a daily tool called a "Bring-Up File" (some call it a "tickler file") to help me remember and follow up on paperwork, etc. I still use it. But productivity applications like Notes, AudioMemos, Dragon Dictation, Penultimate, and Springpad help me clip, save, sort, file, and remember things from travel itineraries to newspaper articles to sermon ideas and more.

6. It makes me healthier. Soon after I was given an iPad as a gift, I downloaded an application called Fat Secret and started recording everything I ingest, as well as daily exercise, and my weekly weight. It's so easy to keep track of--and improve on--my nutritional habits; the app not only remembers the foods I eat for easy entry later on, it quickly searches for nutritional information for virtually any food and allows me to scan a UPC, so I'm never left guessing about my intake for the day. It also gives me a daily diary that compares my activity to my calories.

7. It connects me. Yeah, I know social media like Twitter and Facebook are great time-wasters. But they can also be used to connect with people and share resources. They recently enabled me to inform friends of an opportunity to meet up with mutual friends from out of the country and enabled me to obtain a desperately and urgently needed costume for an upcoming speaking engagement. Oh, yeah, and the ability to text my wife and kids (among others) makes it possible to get a question answered quickly, even when they're at work or otherwise inaccessible via phone.

These aren't the only ways technology helps me. There are many others. But these happen every single day in my life, and that is something for which to be very thankful. And I am.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 2)

The pastor's desk above belongs to Ed Komoszewski, Pastor of Equipping Ministries at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, MN.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (but no tidying up before taking the picture) to bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Plastic Donuts

It is a strange title, but the meaning of Plastic Donuts becomes clear early in the first chapter as author Jeff Anderson tells of the plastic donut his toddler daughter presented to him--and the joy she experienced when he made much of her gift. Her joy brought him joy.

That, Anderson says, is how God wants us to give. And what we inwardly long to experience, though few people ever do.

Plastic Donuts (Giving That Delights the Heart of the Father) is a short book that is long on life-changing blessing. It offers a fresh perspective on "acceptable gifts." He doesn't get tangled up in rules and regulations, tithes and offerings, blessings and curses, sowing and reaping, and so on. He sheds new light on many Bible passages, however, and on some of our basic assumptions about giving (for example, he says the standard sentiment that "it's the heart that counts" is just wrong when it comes to giving).

Plastic Donuts may not answer all your questions about giving (as I said, it's a short book), but it will probably answer most. And, most importantly, it will give you answers that can change your heart and life, as they change how and why and what you give.

About the author: After a five-year career as an accountant, Jeff Anderson became a full-time daytrader. In 2003, he joined Crown Financial Ministries, eventually serving as Vice President, North America -- Generosity Initiatives. He is an elder in his home church, an active Bible teacher and financial mentor to many.

7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

Ron Edmonson, one of the blogging pastors I read regularly, posted recently "7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor." I must agree. See if you do:
I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize that makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.)

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers. Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role – The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday…I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works…some can catch on that the message actually has to be written…but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

Various opinions of how a pastor should pastor – Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here....
Read the rest here.

Are there any you disagree with? Any you would add?

Black Church v. White Church

Gary Owen offers helpful commentary:

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 1)

With the photo above, a new recurring feature begins on this blog: The Pastor's Desk. Each post will be a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk (and just one rule imposed on the participants: no tidying up before taking the picture). A short description will identify to whom the office or desk belongs. The first installment is a photo of my study, in the basement of our home.

About Podcasts

Podcasts are a wonderful thing. I listen to several in the course of a week (I posted about my listening habits here). But I'm more than a little mystified and concerned by the church's approach to podcast--as I have been about the church's approach to radio and television.

Judging from most churches' podcasts and vidcasts, the sermon is what really matters. In fact, from all appearances, the sermon is practically all that matters.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a preacher. I love the Bible. I love preaching. I believe God still uses "the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21, KJV), as well as to inspire, grow, encourage, and admonish the saints.

But preaching ain't all there is to worship. Why do we "podcast" (to verb a noun) as if it is?

I suppose it is understandable, to a degree. Prayers may not always translate well in a podcasting format. Copyright issues limit churches' ability to include music in a podcast. Drama and dance would work for video but not audio. And so on.

But still.

Is it about "celebrity?" Do we exalt famous preachers to the exclusion of congregations? Is it because we can hear worship music on KLove or Air1? Is it a sign that we find prayer "boring?" Or is it something else?

Whatever it is, it seems to be more pronounced among evangelicals. For example, a daily prayer podcast I use often (mentioned in the post I linked above) comes from an Episcopal Church in Maryland. Roman Catholic podcasts (as well as radio and television) present diverse aspects of prayer and worship. But for some reason, evangelical churches rarely feature elements of worship besides the sermon.

Is it just me? Am I all wet? Or have others noticed this as well?

The Mercy Prayer

It is more often called "The Jesus Prayer."

"Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner." Or, simply, "Lord, have mercy."

Author and pastor Robert Gelinas calls it the most common prayer in the Bible and "the one prayer Jesus always answers."

Interested as I am in prayer--and rewarded some years ago by the reading of the classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, the anonymous tale of a nineteenth-century Russian peasant's quest for the secret of constant prayer (in which the Jesus prayer is central)--I eagerly anticipated The Mercy Prayer, a new volume from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

In eight accessible chapters, Gelinas explores the subject of God’s mercy as the foundation of The Mercy Prayer, offering a readable and practical guide not so much for praying (as I expected), but for receiving the mercy we all need and letting it flow from us into the lives of others.

Why I Value Vulnerability

I read a lot. At least that’s what people tell me. I don’t read nearly as much as I want to, and it seems I’m always pushing to get a little bit of reading time in.

A hefty chunk of my reading these days is blogs. I subscribe to more than thirty blogs and read roughly twenty a day. Mostly pastors or other leadership-oriented blogs. But from time to time I find myself deleting a blog from my RSS feed. It’s not because I disagree with the blogger; I intentionally read people I sometimes disagree with. And it’s not because the blogger has offended me; I don’t offend so easily. And it’s not because the blogger doesn’t have good things to say.

it’s almost always because he or she blogs like an “expert.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m always looking for expert insights and information. I crave it. I depend on it. BUT there’s a difference between being an expert...and sounding like one. There are many people who have the education and experience to speak as an expert.

But “experts” turn me off. One blogger in particular, a spectacularly successful pastor, is a prime example. I admire him. I respect him. I praise God for him and the work he and his church are doing. But I deleted him from my feed, because he writes like an expert. He speaks with the authority of someone who has arrived. A know-it-all. That not only turns me off; it bores me.

Which, come to think of it, is the gripe a lot of folks have about churches and Christians--and especially pastors--in general. We don’t listen, we talk. We have all the answers (or act like we do). We know it all.


May I say again: Yuck. If I am turned off--and bored--by such attitudes, why should I be surprised that others are? God help me to resign from the ranks of the “experts.” God help me not to act like someone who has arrived. God help me to be way too curious and way too humble and way too vulnerable to sound like an expert on anything....except maybe God’s incredible sense of humor in extending grace to me!

Why Millenials Are Leaving the Church

Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, offers answers to the question in her article, "Why Millenials Are Leaving the Church," to which I find myself saying, "Yes, yes, amen, oh yes, amen, exactly, absolutely, yes, and amen." Among other things.

She starts:
At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.

I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.

I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.

I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.

Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
And then goes on to hit more proverbial nails on their heads. So read the whole thing.

And if you're a church leader and you find yourself asking, "What is a 'millenial'?," read it again.

And if you're a pastor and you're thinking, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands," read it every day for a week.

And if you haven't read Rachel's A Year of Biblical Womanhood, go read it.

And if you think I'm done telling you what to do, you're right.