Category Archives: Leadership

Is it Safe?

Lion of the Dublin zoophoto © 2004 Tambako The Jaguar | more info (via: Wylio)


Do you remember this scene from the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?”

“Is he a man?”, asked Lucy.

“Aslan, a man?”, said Mr.Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you, He is the King of the wood and the son of the Great Emperor Beyond the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – The lion. The Great Lion.”

“Ooh”, said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he…quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion!”

“That you will deary and no mistake”, said Mrs.Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?”, said Lucy.

“Safe?”, said Mr.Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe…..but he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.” – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

I did not get the profound significance of this statement until the second or third time I watched The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  I meet many Lucy’s in the work that I do.  When I go out to Churches and invite Christians to venture into the inner city to spend time with Christ among the homeless population, the first question is always, “Is it safe?”  I never know how to answer this question because following Christ is always a dangerous proposition.

You do not have to spend much time in the Apostle Paul’s letters to realize just how dangerous being a Christ follower is. One of the best examples is 2 Corinthians 11:24-26 where the Apostle Paul writes

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”

I love this passage because no matter how bad things get for me; I have it good compared to Paul!  So why is it that we as Christians today think that we can follow Christ and still play it safe at the same time? There is certainly much biblical evidence to the contrary.

However, I cannot judge the Lucy’s of the world.  “Is it safe?” was my first question when I heard God calling me into the city to spend time with a young homeless mother named Stephanie who had just exited the local shelter.  I knew in my first encounter with this woman in the safe comfortable confines of my local church that Christ was present as she and I shared our stories.  I knew that the call to visit her at her home was of God and yet I almost allowed fear to keep me from choosing the good over the safe.  I almost allowed the enemy to steal the tremendous blessings that grew out of that first act of faithfulness by convincing me that my safety was more important than my obedience.

I will never forget my heart pounding as I drove into the city and the ominous words of my husband who urged me not to go because “this city is a dangerous place”.  I had him on the cell phone the entire time I was searching for Stephanies’s apartment.  Like Mrs. Beaver pointed out, there are few who can go before the King without their knees knocking.  But the minute Stephanie opened that apartment door and embraced me as her sister in Christ, all my fear vanished.  God does not remove our fear, but if we are faithful to persevere in spite of the fear, God will reward our faithfulness.

I think the larger question is “Is it safe to ignore the call of God?”  I am not big into the use of “fear of God” as a reason for people getting involved.  Instead, I see the real risk not in God zapping us for being disobedient but the greater risk is in us missing out on the blessings that God has in store for us.

Do you remember the scene in Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian where Lucy after looking for Aslan throughout the movie, goes alone into the forest and finally finds him.  She throws herself, arms stretched wide around his enormous neck, and embraces him with such love and devotion.  Can you imagine all the blessings Lucy would have missed out on had she been too scared to approach Aslan?

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

When we choose to seek Christ among the least, we are assured to find him there and while he is not safe, he is always good.

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Filed under Leadership, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Have you Hugged an Apostle Today?

Bald Eagle cruising on a freezing Alaskan morningphoto © 2008 Frank Kovalchek | more info (via: Wylio)


So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:11-13

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Filed under Leadership, missional church

Jeanine’s Offering

I have been blessed this past month to meet Jeanine Guidry who is the founder and Executive Director of a non-profit band here in Richmond appropriately named Offering. Their tag line is “Making Music Make a Difference.”  Offering achieves this vision by giving their musical talents away in support of local non-profits.

I spent time with Jeanine this week and watched her with great interest as she offered herself to Embrace, Homeward, and the East End community.  I have never met such a giving person in my life.  I kept trying to figure out what her angle was.  What was she going to get out of any of this?  I could not answer this question until I read a devotional from Marketplace Leaders written by OS Hillman titled “The Spirit of Competition” which came out today in the TGIF email. Hillman writes

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Filed under Community Development, Leadership

Open Source Christianity

For the past year I have been reading anything I can find on creating missional structures that release peoples creativity into the community in a way that strengthens and builds up communities.  I discovered a post titled “Chance Favors a Connected Mind…& Leadership Network” by Eric Swanson in which Swanson shares the insights of Steven Johnson about how good ideas form through connections.

If you have read my book, you know that it was Swanson’s proposition that community transformation happens at the intersection of the needs of a community, the calling and capacities of the local church and the mandates of God that lead me to the path that ultimately resulted in my starting Embrace Richmond.  I am living proof of Steve Johnson’s theory that innovation happens slowly as we connect different ideas in new ways.  In taking Swanson’s theory, adding my own experiences and the stories and passions of the homeless friends I met along the way, Embrace Richmond was birthed.  As I have shared in the past, we are a very unique organization and I think most would agree, pretty innovative in the way we do ministry.

Swanson shares two video’s that capture the heart of Johnson’s theory. Swanson sums up Johnson’s main idea saying, “Here’s the big idea: Chance favors the connected mind. Rarely does a good idea emerge from a vacuum.”  The first video is an animated clip of Johnson’s ideas and the second clip is of Johnson sharing his ideas with a group.  Both are excellent.

Last week at the Communities First Association conference, Jeremy Morrman a technologies consultant with Arkeme, shared with our group how program development has changed over the past decade with more and more open source products being developed collaboratively by communities of developers verses through the traditional development process owned and managed by software companies.  The open source platforms are releasing creativity by connecting minds around a particular technological need.  The communities of developers are unpaid and commit to sharing any code they develop freely and openly with others.  These open platforms have resulted in exponential levels of creativity in the field as tens of thousands of people work together with a technology verses just the paid staff of some large software company.  The products created through this method are then offered free of charge to end users.

I have a hunch, as Johnson would say, that if we brought this idea of creative collaborative spaces together with the growing desire of Christians to be change agents in their communities and created low cost, flexible leadership structures, we could significantly reduce poverty in this county. It will require everyone to give freely what they have without looking for ownership or credit.  However these lightweight structures would allow for exponential multiplication of the ideas and thus the potential for a national huge impact.

So instead of Christians looking to paid church staff to coordinate missions events or to non-profits to build programs , we actually create an open platform where people of faith from all across a region regardless of religious affiliation, work collaboratively on a particular issue facing the community without concern for who gets the credit or the need to own the end product. From what I understand about open source projects, the management of a particular project is determined by the group but the end product belongs to the user community.

So, how can we create spaces for collaborative imagination?  Where  can these kinds of conversations happen?  What would a flat, shared leadership structure look like?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers right now but like the turtle in Johnson’s story board, I am on a slow crawl toward a eureka moment.  Your insights just might be the missing piece of the puzzle!  So please share.


Filed under Leadership, missional church

Why don’t more Christians respond to the needs of those on the margins?

I spend many days alone on our property in rural Virginia.  This cabin in the woods is my sanctuary.  I shared earlier this week that I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the need that surrounds me on a daily basis.  I know when that begins to happen, it is time to get away.  We know from scripture that Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place, and I think I understand why.  In the midst of the noise of ministry, it is very hard to hear God’s voice clearly and even harder to discern the path in front of you.

I always begin these personal retreats with a walk around the property with my 150 pound Bernese Mountain Dog named Max.  Today, I decided to take a path I have not traveled in a while through the woods and was sad to see that the trail was covered over with leaves and sticks and that in several places it was blocked by fallen trees and large limbs.  Before I could continue my journey, I had to stop and clear away the debris from the road.  As I sat to write this post, I realized that “clearing away the debris” is what a good theologian helps us do.  They help us rediscover ancient pathways that may have been neglected or covered over with other things.

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Filed under Leadership, Urban Ministry

My Three Wise Wanda’s : Learning to Follow the Leader Again

As children, one of the first games we learn to play is “follow the leader.”  As a child, I recall everyone fighting to be the leader.  I think it is fair to say that as a society, we value “leaders” above “followers.”  While it is true that all movements begin with a leader, as this humorous video demonstrates, it is the first followers who are key to any movement.  Click here to view video.

In my post “A Tale of Two Women”, I share a vision of how we might mobilize more Christian’s to follow Christ and move beyond the pew and into transformative relationships with the most vulnerable in our world.  In my allegorical tale, “Wanda” represents someone who has successfully moved beyond the sanctuary walls and who becomes “lived theology”; the “Body of Christ” in the world.  I know a lot of “Wanda’s” and while they are unique, all of them followed someone else who set an example for them.  They were all “first followers.”   “Wanda’s” are key to the advancement of a any movement of faith.

We all need Wanda’s in our lives; people who challenge us to take our faith to the next level.  Wanda’s come in all shapes, sizes, and genders.  They come from both sides of the bridge; from every race, class and religious background.  I have many Wanda’s in my life and I want to publicly recognize three who are shaping my life right now.  Pat Henfling, my seventy-six year old Catholic spiritual mentor who introduced me to the value of silence and stillness in the Christian journey.  Martha Rollins who has demonstrated grace under the tremendous pressures of being an Executive Director of the faith-based urban focused non-profit, Boaz and Ruth.  And, Janie Walker my co-laborer who is teaching me the gift of creating space for reflecting and sharing life together.

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Filed under Leadership, missional church

BTSR Convocation Message: Beyond the Pew

Today I had the great honor of speaking at convocation for Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Below is the message I prepared to welcome the incoming class of BTSR.  I hope it blesses seminary students, faculty,  graduates and friends everywhere. Over the years I have heard many people question the importance of a theological education. This message is my testimony to the value I place on my seminary experience.


I grew up completely un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt.  I was that “lost child” all the church ladies prayed for, the one they assumed did not know Jesus.  My image of the church was a place where people sat and pastors preached.  I was outside the walls and wondered what it would be like to sit in those pews.

In my late twenties through a series of miscarriages, God led me inside the walls of the church building and I found a comfortable home in the pew.  I knew all the faces who sat near my comfy pew home and they loved me into the Christian family.  I belonged in that pew. I was finally comfortable inside the church walls.

In 2001, with the demise of Enron, my family moved from Houston to Richmond and I lost my comfy home in that pew.  I landed in Richmond, not knowing anyone.  There was a stirring in my spirit, an unrest that I could not explain.  I felt God was calling me to go beyond pew sitting, and I answered that call by enrolling in BTSR in 2003.

At orientation, I learned that BTSR is dedicated to training “pastors.”  That scared me!  I was not pastor.  The Pastor was the one who stood and preached to the pew sitters.  I did not know what God was calling me to do, but I knew it was not that!

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Filed under Leadership, Theology, Unity Works Reading

A Unifing Question: “Do you care about what I care about?”

Having grown up outside the church, coming to faith in the Lutheran church, finding my way into a Baptist seminary, birthing a ministry made up initially of catholic women, while being a member of a Methodist church, I knew whatever God called me to, it would involve unifying the body of Christ.  In Seminary I took a class on Ecumenism.  The professor said, “We will never be able to unite the body of Christ around doctrine.  However, we can unite in our care of the poor and the oppressed.”

In 2004, when I wrote the original vision statement for Embrace Richmond it was with this goal in mind. Earlier this year, our board modified the vision statement which now reads, “A city united to embrace all; bridging people of every race, class, and religious background together to care for one another.”  When I wrote this statement I had no idea how difficult it would be to actually achieve this vision.

For the past month, I have been praying a lot about the word “unity” and what “unity that bridges people of every religious background together to care for one another” actually means.  I have written many posts on the difficulties of bridging people of different races and classes but by far the most difficult task has been bridging people from different religious traditions within the Christian faith.

This week my associate Janie Walker led our team in a meditation on the core values of Embrace Richmond.  The core value of “Missional Unity” caught my attention.  It reads, “We value Missional Unity birthed out of racial, economic, religious, and cultural diversity.”  I realized at that moment that we had inadvertently dropped one very key concept from the conversation on unity and that concept is unity around mission.

The original vision statement of Embrace reads, “We envision a city united to embrace all who are in need;  a place where people of every race, class and religious background join together to care for their neighbors in need.”  When we removed the missional emphasis from our vision statement, we did so thinking that this element of who we are was explicit in our mission statement.  However, in hindsight, I wonder if this was wise.  Will future generations understand that the unity we seek is unity in caring for those in need?

In conversations on the topic of “unity” as it relates to faith, we often default to the question, “Do you believe what I believe?”  However, the missional unity that is the core of our vision statement asks an entirely different question.  Missional unity asks the question, “Do you care about what I care about?”

I do not believe it is possible to unify people of different faith traditions around a set of beliefs. The history books are proof of that. However, I do believe it is possible to unity people of different faith traditions around the shared mission of reducing poverty and suffering in our city.

The difficulty in achieving this mission then becomes one of finding unity in methodology.  This is a whole different conversation which I hope to consider in a later post.

In short, I was reminded this week that the focus has to be on the mission and it is the mission that unifies us. I look forward to exploring the concept of missional unity more in the coming weeks.

What experiences have you had working with ecumenical groups?  How have you seen different faith traditions unify around shared mission?  What practices or processes do you think can help achieve this kind of unity?


Filed under Leadership, missional church, Urban Ministry

Clarification: I am not really advocating chopping off parts of the body

As you likely deduced from my blog titled “The Shadow of my Blog”, I got in a bit of hot water because of my blog titled “Ouch, that hurt!” At the time I wrote “Ouch”, I simply could not process all the pain I was feeling and as I shared in “Shadow,” I simply needed to lament.

Not only is the word lament not used in our culture, the actual practice is equally as neglected.  We have become a plastic people.  We are taught to control our emotions, hide our feelings. Those who express deep emotions are often labeled “emotionally unstable.”  I don’t know if it is just American’s or if people everywhere have gradually sought to stifle emotion as a part of our human evolution.

If any of the prophets and many of the psalmists whose writings appear in the Old Testament were to appear on the scene today, I feel certain we would quickly commit them to a mental hospital or drug them with anti-depressants.  We would suggest they have a glass of wine or perhaps a Valium. We would instruct them to only share their pain with their therapist and insist that they not “rock the boat.”

Over the past several months, the issue of depression has come up several times in our Embrace communities at all levels.  It seems to me that depression has reached an epidemic level among all segments of our society; rich, poor, young, old, urban, suburban, male and female.  I am not psychiatrist or a trained therapist but I wonder if by stifling our emotions if we might be emotionally damaging ourselves and others?

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Filed under Leadership, missional church, Urban Ministry

Lessons Learned By Getting Lost

The air was surprisingly cool and crisp this morning as I set out from our property in rural central Virginia for what was supposed to be a 10 mile ride through the country.  It is a ride I have done many times before and I was starting to get a bit bored with it.  I decided to press on past my normal turn around point expecting to go just a little further.

I had not gone very far when two very fast, very fierce dogs began to chase me.  I paddled as fast as I could up the hill and managed to escape unharmed.  However, as I turned and looked behind me, my pursuers were poised in the middle of the road daring me to return.  I did not have the courage to undergo another attack so I kept riding with no idea how I would get back to our cabin.

I soon found a road I recognized.  I assumed it would get me back to familiar territory which it did.  However, I was coming from a different direction, took a wrong turn and ended up going an additional 5 miles before I finally found my way back to our property. In total, I biked 17 miles which is quite a long ride for an old woman like me.

While I really wish the snarling dogs would have been napping when I rode past, without my fear of being eaten for lunch, I never would have found this new path.  What I saw on these new roads was well worth the risk it took to get me there.  I ended up on a ridge overlooking rolling green fields, came upon a creek as I passed through the Buckingham Appomattox Forest, and discovered I am biking distance to Holiday Lake State Park.  Most importantly, I learned I can bike 17 miles and live.  This one unexpected venture will yield months of new biking expeditions. I also grew tremendously as a biker from the experience. I learned to take a map with me, a cell phone, and will be investing in pepper spray as a nice surprise for the next pack of dogs to challenge me.

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Filed under Leadership, missional church, Personal Reflection