Jul 8, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
Robert A. Fryling, The Leadership Ellipse, IVP: Formatio, 2010, 221 pages.Carmen Bernos de Gasztold wrote a collection of poems, The Creature’s Choir, in which she put prayers in the mouths of animals and birds. Robert Fryling’s favorite is “The Peacock” in which this beautiful bird proudly describes its external beauty, while humbly mourning its discordant cry and mournful heart. It ends its lament with “Lord / let a day come / a heavenly day /hen my inner and outer selves / will be reconciled in perfect harmony.” The thesis of The Leadership Ellipse is that Christian leaders are too often like the Peacock, feeling a painful tension between being and doing, between their inner relationship with God and their external relationship with others. Fryling argues that Christian leadership books tend to focus on one or the other, heightening the tension. His thesis is that, rather than choose between the two, we should aim continuously at both targets. Hence, his central illustration is not of a circular target with a single bull’s-eye, but of an ellipse containing two foci. “One focal point is our inner spiritual life, our longings, our affections and our allegiance to God. The other focal point is our outer world and organizational life, what we do and how we do it.” The book has three parts: Shaping our Inner World, Shaping our Outer World, and Shaping our Leadership. The first two parts are self-explanatory, although there is some overlap. In part three, Fryling applies the principles of integrated leadership to specific challenges leaders face. In addition to covering many of the staple Christian leadership bases (prayer, listening skills, relationships, courage, time-management, etc.), the book has three major strengths. The first is its obvious and commendable emphasis on integrating the leader’s outer and inner world. He challenges the activist to be more contemplative, and the contemplative to be more active. If, like most Christian leaders today, you err on the activist side, you will find much in this book to help you redress that imbalance. And that really leads on to the book’s second major strength, its first chapter, A Weaned Soul: The Practice of Sabbath. I am astonished at how few pastors take a weekly “day off.” This rejection of God’s created order (required even in an unfallen world), eventually takes its toll on the body, the mind, the emotions, the soul, and our relations with others. Fryling speaks very candidly as he demonstrates from his own and others’ lives how he learned, “The Sabbath was made for man.” I cannot recommend this chapter highly enough. The third area of strength is on pages 201-202, where Fryling (thankfully, though somewhat reluctantly) shares his written “rule of life.” He has written out specific aims and standards of life for his heart soul, mind, strength, family, church and calling. I would not adopt all of these for myself, but I can see the real value in having such a written personal manifesto, and this is a great place to start. But, I feel I have to raise three caveats. The first is Fryling’s advocacy of some rather unusual spiritual practices. He describes the spiritual benefit that he received from liturgical dance and from reflecting on Van Gogh’s paintings. Also, on pages 92-94, he describes how a team-sandcastle-building project, done in total silence, finished “with one of the most meaningful times of worship” he ever experienced. It involved a cross made out of driftwood, some beach garbage, and a reluctant team member. Maybe others will find it moving and helpful. This Scottish Presbyterian found it a bit bizarre. The second concern I had was the preponderance of quotes from and favorable references to the medieval church fathers and Roman Catholic theologians: St. Bonaventure, St. Francis of Assisi, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Albert Haase, Jean Vanier, Jean Pierre de Caussade, St. Benedict, Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, Pope Gregory the Great, etc. This preference for and promotion of Roman Catholic theologians and writers worried me. N. T. Wright is also quoted. There was comparatively little reference to the Reformers, the Puritans, or even present day evangelical and reformed leaders. The third caveat is that a pastor did not write it. Fryling is the publisher of InterVarsity Press, and the Vice President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He has also occupied various managerial roles in his decades of service with IVP. His book is, therefore, more suited to those who manage and lead in Christian organizations, para-church ministries, charities, etc. Pastors can certainly learn many lessons from Fryling’s book, especially his emphasis on inner/outer integration and the beneficial practice of Sabbath rest. However, it would not be in my first tranche of leadership books for young pastors (although I would want all seminarians to read chapter one). If you have been pastoring for a few years and need a refresher, or a motivator, or just a new perspective, then I would recommend this book. I think it’s important for pastors, elders, and anyone with responsibility in the church, to be a regular reader of new Christian books on leadership. It’s not so much that you will learn new biblical principles (though you might). But as long as this world keeps changing, you will need to keep learning new applications of these principles. That’s where this book may do you a lot of good. This review first appeared at TGC Reviews, the book review site of The Gospel Coalition.
Jul 7, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
PR 101: Don’t describe people you have offended and hurt as “small people.”Unfortunately for BP, their chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, missed that class. Brought in to repair BP’s reputation following a series of gaffes by CEO Tony Hayward, Svanberg chose the steps of the White House to say: “We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies, or greedy companies, don’t care. But that is not case in BP. We care about the small people.” Svanberg is a Swede and probably did not mean what most people heard when he said “small people.” And although he later apologised, these two words perhaps did more damage to BP’s reputation than the ocean-floor webcam, the oily pelicans, and the brown beaches combined. Justin Taffinder of New Orleans was quick to respond: “We’re not small people. We’re human beings. They’re no greater than us. We don’t bow down to them. We don’t pray to them.” “We’re not small people.” Hmmm. No and yes. Of course, belittling people and treating them with contempt is always wrong. But, Jesus also told certain “big people” that unless they became “small people” they would not even enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:1-4). Consider the perfect balance in the words of the enfleshed Word. 1. Become my little ones (v. 1-4)
2. Receive my little ones (v. 5)
3. Protect my little ones (v. 6-9)
4. Value my little ones (v. 10)
5. Find my little ones (v. 11-14) Svanberg will probably lose his job for his small people comments. But, grasp Jesus’ words and you may save your soul (and others’).
Jul 6, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
Jul 6, 2010 • By David Murray • 2 Comments
Ever wondered why you can successfully resist a big temptation over an extended period of time, only to then fall into some “smaller” sin which should have been much easier to reject? Dan Heath says the answer may have something to do with cookies and radishes.
Students come into a lab. It smells amazing—someone has just baked chocolate-chip cookies. On a table in front of them, there are two bowls. One has the fresh-baked cookies. The other has a bunch of radishes. Some of the students are asked to eat some cookies but no radishes. Others are told to eat radishes but no cookies, and while they sit there, nibbling on rabbit food, the researchers leave the room – which is intended to tempt them and is frankly kind of sadistic. But in the study none of the radish-eaters slipped – they showed admirable self-control. And meanwhile, it probably goes without saying that the people gorging on cookies didn’t experience much temptation.Then, the two groups are asked to do a second, seemingly unrelated task—basically a kind of logic puzzle where they have to trace out a complicated geometric pattern without raising their pencil. Unbeknownst to them, the puzzle can’t be solved. The scientists are curious how long they’ll persist at a difficult task. So the cookie-eaters try again and again, for an average of 19 minutes, before they give up. But the radish-eaters—they only last an average of 8 minutes. What gives? The answer may surprise you: They ran out of self-control. Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. And I don’t mean self-control only in the sense of turning down cookies or alcohol, I mean a broader sense of self-supervision—any time you’re paying close attention to your actions, like when you’re having a tough conversation or trying to stay focused on a paper you’re writing. This helps to explain why, after a long hard day at the office, we’re more likely to snap at our spouses or have one drink too many—we’ve depleted our self-control.
You can read the whole article or watch Dan Heath on video here. But here’s my takeaway from this article:1. This fascinating research certainly helps to explain (but not excuse) some incidents in my own life. 2. When I’ve been especially disciplined and successful in self-denial, I am at my most vulnerable. 3. Self-control can only get me so far. I need the Holy Spirit if I am to last beyond 19 minutes (or in my case closer to 19 seconds). In fact, why not depend on the Holy Spirit from the first second? 4. I worship Jesus Christ even more, especially as I consider His unbreakable moral and spiritual strength during that lonely and unrelenting 40-day temptation in the wilderness. And the “secret” of his success? Jesus entered the wilderness “filled with the Holy Spirit” and returned “in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:1, 14).