Acknowledging Culture, Favoring Sookespeople

My friend, David Swanson, reflecting on the saint who was Fred Shuttlesworth and the superstar who was Steve Jobs:

Relevancy is not always bad. We are culturally bound creatures who, whether we try to or not, will speak and act from the cultures that have formed us. But there is a considerable difference between acknowledging our culture and favoring its values and spokespeople as evidence of our ministry effectiveness.

Click here to read David Swanson’s article at our of ur.

Creating a School & Faith

I asked Sonia Wang, a friend and member of New Community, to write this post about the role of faith in starting a school.  It’s a great reflection pulling belief together in her life.  Here we go.

About three years ago, a few of my colleagues and I found ourselves disgruntled about the obstacles standing in the way of our students’ learning. It seemed that learning had been reduced to mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, teacher voice was constantly overlooked if even ever sought, and school metrics were prioritized over authentic learning. It was the result of systemic tensions that continue to plague our public education system, and at the core, our community’s young generation of students.

We thought to ourselves: what would a school that was created by a group of educators who have been in the classroom look like? We tossed a few ideas around- a focus on social justice, fostering qualities of resilience, empathy, and curiosity, and celebrating collaboration and discussion. In the case of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we knew the only possible route we could take as a group of educators was to apply for a charter. A lofty, pie in the sky thought…some would call the whole notion sticking our heads in the clouds.

However, as I prayed through the initial process, it all just made sense. From unique corners of our teaching experiences, God brought together six teachers, with a diverse background of life experiences. We spent the first 2 years figuring out what this “school” of ours would look like. With the pending political change in Chicago, there was no sign of new charter applications being considered in CPS. During these two years, we began to form the foundation of our school, but with the unknown looming over our heads, it continued to feel like a “project” rather than us pursuing our vision. In these two years, two members decided to leave the group and doubts filled our head.

My biggest concern took form in two ways:

1.    I would continue to remind myself that God’s hand was in all this but a fear of failure overwhelmed me. So I was stuck in a place of paralysis—wanting to seek support and prayer from my community but not wanting to tell anyone about it. As is the case, once you go public, it becomes more real. And in that moment, the school did not feel real at all.

2.   Then there was the overwhelming doubt that I tried to avoid over and over but there it was always—what if it doesn’t work out? What I if I waste years of my life, in my “prime,” pursuing this lofty goal that we’ll never be able to achieve? I would sometimes think to myself, during this time, how I could be doing A, B, and C if I weren’t working on this school… After all, how often do you see a group of 20-somethings starting a charter school when most charter schools are started by a management organization with a track record?

Perhaps it was circumstance that changed things or perspective, or both. But I cannot deny that God is the orchestrator. In the third year, God tugged on my heart to share with my community- my close friends and my church family. The overwhelming support and excitement they displayed gave me the energy to keep pushing for my school even when it felt like it was a flat attempt.

Through the support I was also reminded of the big picture—I wasn’t merely trying to open a school; God created this space where I saw something problematic and rather than sitting in it, He gave me the opportunity to respond to it. And that in and of itself was something for me to embrace. It became not about me but about who God is—how big He is and how great His glory is. And as this truth settled in me, I approached this endeavor less as pursuing my dream but an opportunity to respond to God’s glory.

The third year of this process also became a whirlwind of an experience. At the start of this year, CPS put out a call for applications for charters; luckily, those two years of groundwork our team started paid off. We got together our application and submitted it. Late June we received approval to move into the next phase, which consisted of completing a proposal that was intense and comprehensive. Things started to take tangible form. From community partnerships to facilities, God provided and blessed us one thing after another. He connected us to people who connected us to other people who then provided services to us, such as building inspections, real estate research, financial consulting, etc. Word about our work in our proposed community spread and as we walked down the street, community members would ask about the school-when is it coming? Where can they sign up their child for it? Could they request that we hold a spot for their 2-year old?

By God’s grace, we completed a 169-page proposal and were invited to the next phase, an interview. As the team member who was delivering the opening statement, I found peace and comfort in a verse that was written on the piece of paper I had prepared for the interview:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

Sure enough, through Him, I have come to this point in starting a school—learning to wait in faith until a decision is made. However, as I think of the school we have proposed and the way our work has brought together a group of strangers, the Design Team, Board Members, and community members, united by the single vision of a south-side charter school that celebrates students for their voice and their individual strengths, I know that His work has already been done. And I am excited to see what more may come about through His power and might!

Giveaway Winner & Leaders Leaving

Thank you all who participated in the WENCH giveaway.  Anicka Land is the winner!  She posted J. California Cooper’s novel, Life Is Short But Wide, in the comments, a quality book that both me and Dawn have read.

I hope all of you will pick up a copy of WENCH and follow Dolen Perkins-Valdez going forward.

For today, I’d like to point to two interesting posts by two practitioners whose work I follow and my thoughts about them.  The first person is Skye Jethani.  Skye wrote a compelling and inspiring post on his blog a week or so back about perpetuity and leadership.  The second person is Michael Hyatt.  Michael has transitioned from the role of CEO of Thomas Nelson, and he’s blogged about that decision.

A couple things stand out as I reflect upon the thoughts of these two leaders and their insights.  Note that Michael Hyatt has a great and necessary post here that any leader will benefit from addressing “Advice to a New CEO (or to any leader)”.  Please read it if you believe you’re remotely interested.  Now, my reflections on their two posts.

  • Leaders know when to leave even if they choose to stay.  I grew up hearing of pastors leaving their churches.  It’s still true that countless pastors resign from their churches each year because of a long list of reasons, including things like inadequate self-care, bad economics, conflicts within the congregation, failure of some kind, and so on.  I also grew up with some grand models of faithfulness where pastors stayed where they were called.  My mentors have many years behind them in one place for lengths of time.  But Skye points to how leaders lose sight of ever leaving by connecting perpetuity with success or fruitfulness.  When success is tied to a person staying, it’s a setup for the leader’s loss of her or his essential value.
  • Focusing on the external is as important as attending to the internal.  It takes a severe tension to serve in a church or a company or an organization while being able to see inside and outside.  Usually you can’t see both clearly without extreme patience and effort.  It takes help and intentionality to attend to the life of a company or (and these two are very different) a congregation.  Looking ahead and looking at the immediate isn’t easy.  But both are vital.  Doing both ensure that we aren’t setting ourselves and our people up for some surprising something that took us off guard.
  • Leaving well and at a good time sets new leaders up for fruitfulness and success.  Good leaders don’t leave at just any time.  They choose to leave.  They choose when to leave.  I think how we leave–even how we decide to–is an indicator of our relationship to the place we serve.  Michael Hyatt says in his post, “I feel that this is the perfect time to make this transition.”  Then he goes into a small list of reasons.  I think that language is so revealing.  It’s not a requirement that a leader sense a “perfect time” to leave, but when he can, it sings many songs about planning, carefulness, and vision.
  • Creativity is important.  Both of these men are writers, communicators.  One thing I value about Michael Hyatt’s change is that it is, in part, based in his desire to be more creative.  His role as a CEO didn’t allow for that.  Though he’ll still be the Chairman at TN, he’ll have time and energy to create.  I don’t think most leaders are looking for ways to create.  We’re often swamped with what’s in front of us.  Marking space for creativity is exceptional more than anything.
  • Good leaders point to accomplishments.  Leaders also know that accomplishments are always communal.  No pastor or leader or executive works alone.  That means that when we list accomplishments, we are also acknowledging the hard work and efforts of others.  People who serve a church or in a company because of that place’s vision don’t need gratitude, but they appreciate it.  I hope this is something I can learn to do and do well.
  • Life is a story.  That comes directly from Michael Hyatt.  Putting these two posts in dialogue makes me question the stories that church leaders, primarily pastors, tell when we don’t think about the future, when we pretend that we are the “heads” of the church(es).  The story that we tell always has another central character.  Our lives are stories and we should notice those narratives, attend to them well, and write those stories well.

What do you think?

More on Marriage: Interview with Johnathan & Toni Alvarado, authors of Let’s Stay Together

In my last post, I reflected upon my role as pastor in relation to marriage and divorce.  In some ways, I’m continuing that reflection with what I offer you in this post.

I read Let’s Stay Together this year.  It’s by two of my mentors, Bishop Johnathan Alvarado and his wife and colleague, Dr. Toni Alvarado.  I asked them a few questions about their book, which I commend to you if you’re interested in marriage, interested in getting married, or serious about strengthening yourself in relation to a long-term committed relationship.  As I’ve told them, I am thankful for their willingness to teach others about marriage, to mentor me and my wife in our marriage, as well as their hard work in living what they say.  I’m realistic but I hold them to a high bar, which they, by grace, reach gracefully.

1)      What motivated you to write Let’s Stay Together?

We have been concerned with the rising divorce rate within the body of Christ.  We noticed that divorces were not remanded to the ranks of the laity exclusively but even amongst the clergy and leaders within the body of Christ divorce seems to be recurring and even acceptable.  Let’s Stay Together is an attempt to stop the hemorrhage and provide strategies and solutions for longevity and success in marriage. Further, we carry a burden to prepare singles who are desirous of marriage for healthy and productive relationships.

 2)      Your commitment to marriage shines in this book.  At the same time, you counsel couples and you see the hardships people face when trying to live out their marital vows in our society.  How do you maintain your conviction that “divorce was not an option” when that option is so accessible?

We maintain that conviction because we believe that the biblical mandate for marriage carries with it the ability to fulfill its requisites.  Second, we understand that strong marriages are the building blocks for a society.  Not only do we purport that it is a Christian mandate but also it is a necessary institution for the continuance of any civil society.  Finally, the divorced persons with whom we have spoken and/or counseled have consistently confirmed our suspicions that divorce is not all that it’s cracked up to be!  There are those who after having read our book have testified that if they had only known to apply some of the skills that we enumerate, they would have never divorced in the first place. 

 3)      In what ways can a couple mature their beliefs about the long-term covenant of marriage before getting married?

We are strong advocates for pre-marital counseling.  In our contemporary culture, people do more to get a “drivers license” than they do to get a “marriage license.”  In our premarital counseling, not only do couples learn skills that give them the opportunity to have a good marriage but they also get first hand exposure to what a healthy marriage could look like.  The combination of information and impartation gives premarital couples a foundation for marital success.

 4)      You are leaders.  Are their any specific ways leaders are vulnerable to marital failure?

Yes.  Public leaders are particularly vulnerable to marital failure precisely because of the public nature of the lives that they lead.  The pressure of genuinely trying to be a healthy example to others adds a dimension to the marital relationship that must be managed with skill and prudence.  Most couples do not divorce because of a lack of love, but rather they divorce because they lack the skills necessary to stay married, especially while living in the public eye.  We address this in the chapter of the book entitled: “Mega business, career, and ministry requires a mega-marriage.”

5)      One reason I wanted to interview you was to ask you this question.  How have divorces by significant leaders (e.g., Al and Tipper Gore) and celebrity figures in our country informed and challenged how readers hear your relationship strategies?  Does the ease with which many people approach marital dissolution, or not being married for that matter, change how you engage with couples who desire healthy marriages?

We live in an age where the media no longer reflects the common life of the people but rather it frames and crafts the lives that we live.  The media moguls are both predictive and determinative as to how we will live.  Because of this, public figures have more influence on public life than they realize.  When public figures and “leaders” within our society dismiss their marriages without so much as a tear it tacitly gives others the permission or even the encouragement to do the same.  It does change the way in which we have to counsel and instruct intended couples and married couples.  We have to teach them to be counter-cultural if they are going to be successful in their marriages.  

 6)      This is a book about marriage, but a lot of people aren’t married.  And might not get married.  Is there something in this book for them, and if so, what might they find?

While this book is specifically couched in the context of marriage, it is principally a book of relationship strategies.  In the book, we teach strategies that can be beneficial to any relationship.  In any relationship two people have to be able to communicate effectively so we teach principles of good communication.  In every relationship some conflict will arise therefore we teach principles of negotiation for positive resolution.  We believe that this book has something for everyone, not just married couples.  As a matter of fact, our singles are purchasing and enjoying reading the book at least as much as our married and intended couples!

 7)      What are one or two things you want readers to takeaway from Let’s Stay Together?

Here they are: 

  • We want our readers to take away the passion that we have for being married.  We endeavor, through our candid examples and transparent anecdotes to be as forthcoming and genuine as possible while simultaneously painting a realistic picture of the work involved in having a good marriage.  We believe that marriage is viable, beneficial, and worth the effort it takes to enjoy life together. 


  • For our readers who may be unmarried, we desire to inspire, encourage, and to demonstrate to them that in spite of all of the negativity that is so aggrandized, marriage still works.  The skills that we teach will enhance their lives and every relationship that they may have. 


  • Finally, we want every reader to take away the knowledge and tools to build a strong, vibrant, and successful marriage.  It is our hope that everyone who reads this work will discover the blessings of life together, just as we have. 

8)     How can readers of this blog learn about your book and the other dozen things you do?

The book can be purcashed on our website.  Of course they can find us on our blog and at the following links: