The Pastor's Desk (Episode 37)

Just over a year ago, President Obama met Pope Francis in the pope's office. They sat across the pope's desk from each other. So I thought I'd add one more image (at this link) to the Desperate Pastor's ongoing "The Pastor's Desk" series.

My apologies to all the other pastors who sent in photos of them meeting with President Obama at their desk. I couldn't include them all.

The Blue Parakeet

I'm sorry I didn't read Scot McKnight's book, The Blue Parakeet (Rethinking How You Read the Bible), when it was first published, in 2008. Then again, I don't know if it would have resonated so much with me back then. But it sure does now.

The blue parakeet of his title (which he explains in the book's second chapter) refers to those passages in the Bible that Bible-readers and Christ-followers today manage to either ignore or rationalize while claiming to "believe" or "follow" what the Bible says. "What happens to you when you encounter blue parakeet passages in the Bible," he writes, "will reveal all you need to know about how you read the Bible." He masterfully illustrates how, despite many claims to the contrary, everyone picks and chooses from what the Bible says, but few people know they're doing it, fewer know why or how they're doing it, and even fewer can sensibly articulate their thinking and their choices. However, he doesn't recommend that we stop doing so. Instead, he suggests that we learn to read and apply the Bible relationally and missionally. What does he mean by that? Read the book.

That is my summary of the first half of The Blue Parakeet. In the second half of the book, he presents a lengthy case study--one that is very near and dear to my heart--of rethinking how we read and apply the Bible via a thorough examination of how and why the church approaches and discusses and decides the issue of women in ministry and leadership in the church. He shows how leaders, pastors, theologians, and teachers have harmed the church with their teachings on this subject. He shows how most teaching and preaching on the subject in the last two thousand years ignores an important question, similar to the "What Would Jesus Do" meme; that is, "WDWD: What Did Women Do" in Bible times. He asks, "Do you permit women to do in your churches what women did in the Bible and in the early churches?" He then goes on to thoroughly and systematically tackle all the relevant Bible passages in light of that question (he could have--and maybe should have--made that whole section into another book entirely). McKnight, who is Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago, manages to discuss that thorny subject in a measured, rational, reasonable, and fair way.

The Blue Parakeet (Rethinking How You Read the Bible) deserves a wide readership. I wish it were required reading for every church leader and preacher and teacher. It would make a huge difference and might just ignite a revival of Christian thinking and living.

Consistent Leadership Is Crucial

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 this 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.

Church of the Week: College Hill Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

I had the honor and joy last Saturday of officiating a wedding at College Hill Presbyterian Church, in Cincinnati.
The lovely Robin and I have worshiped in this church (mostly in the 80s) and attended several weddings there over the years, but this was the first wedding I officiated there, if memory serves. And it could not have been a more beautiful wedding.
The church dates to April, 1853, when thirty-three people formed the congregation. The oldest part of the church today--the sanctuary--was dedicated on January 4, 1953. I took the photo above on Friday, before the wedding rehearsal.
I also took photos of the six stained glass windows in the ambulatories flanking the sanctuary. They (and windows in the balcony, which I never entered) are memorials given at the time of a 1951 remodeling of the church. They depict six parables of Jesus: the Pharisee and the Publican, the Good Samaritan, the Net of Fishes, the Vineyard, the Sower, and the Lost Sheep.

College Hill Presbyterian is located at 5742 Hamilton Avenue (just south of North Bend Road) in the Cincinnati community of College Hill. It is a beautiful church building that serves an active congregation and community.


One of my favorite preachers on the art of storytelling in preaching:

Church of the Week: Prayer Room at the Cove, Asheville, NC

I passed it at least a dozen times before a friend pointed out to me that there was a prayer room on the second floor of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, in Asheville, North Carolina.
I was there for the Writers Advance Boot Camp in February (a wonderful event which you should plan to attend next year), dashing between teaching sessions and critiquing and coaching appointments with writers, when she asked me if I had seen the prayer room.
It is a beautiful room, sensitively furnished and perfectly oriented, with a scenic view from the kneeling bench. What a wonderful setting for prayer--albeit open-eyed prayer, because who could close his or her eyes to pray when such a view is available?