Teach, Love, and Peace Will Follow!

This is a guest post from my friend Cristie Powers.  She has been serving the homeless, needy, and many others in her neighborhood and her circle of friends for as long as I have known her.  Cristie gets it.  She knows how important it is to serve others.  She is selfless.  She is a beautiful person.  I wish you all could spend some time with her.  I know you would agree!   

This blog is in reference to our current word of the year…. “Community”.

A word that seems to be tossed around and thrown from one ball field to the next. Which isn’t a bad thing of course because it’s a sign that people actually care about each other and about the relationships we share. However, we’ve come to a point we’re not sure if we are playing baseball or soccer. Seriously. We talk a lot of game but who is really winning here?

Cristie Flower
The first important thing to understand is that today’s communities have become what we call cliques. Ok, now that is awesome for those who are in the cliques, but what about the rest of the world?

The word “community” derives from the Latin word “communitas” or “communis” which means all things in common.

Rather than looking at this as a small, communal, geographical area, I believe that if we are truly community driven individuals, then we need to learn how to be teachers instead of leaders. The world needs more teachers and less leaders. Instead of forming a community “clique” and stopping there, we should be encouraging everyone in those community “cliques” to spread the love and start new “community gatherings” all over the place. That is what we seek, right? We want to see a change in our world, not just our neighborhoods.

This means that instead of simply leading a community group in our own area, we should be encouraging everyone within that group to lead some other type of community group throughout the week in their own area of the world. This way the love and communal relationships are able to be spread and built stronger than ever before.

It’s extremely important to everyone around us that we lead by example. We must not get caught up in the glory of all the credit that we receive for being a community leader, but rather rejoice in knowing that we have made a greater difference around us by spreading more relationships than we can count. Even if no one else close to us knows what we have done.

Community is a great word but we need to change our way of thinking and realize that it is not defined by a small demographic area, like we once thought. If we define it this way, then our goal is not truly to change the world, but only the areas in which we live.

Now naturally things must start small, however our goal as community lovers should never stop at small. Again, this is not our ticket to fame and it doesn’t mean that we need to be this well-liked leader who people look up to (although that is important too). The first problem with this is that when there is only one man or woman carrying the weight of leadership without distributing the load the leader will become completely exhausted, which does not help anyone. The second issue is that dedicating all of this effort will begin to take time away from your own unit, which inevitably is quite contrary to the whole “community idea” that you’re trying to accomplish. It becomes vital then, to remember to teach instead of solely lead.

What would happen if every Saturday when we led that community event that we hold so dear, we reminded the whole group of the reason behind the gathering, the joy that it brings, and that each person has it in them to start something of their own wherever they go? At that point community may begin to spread its wings and begin to cover the whole world verses only hovering over our itty bitty neighborhoods. Which is what they are in the grand scheme of life.

If we can better understand the word, then I believe that we can better understand the world. It’s this “world” that is our real community and it’s the world that needs this change.

In my world there is a little homeless Asian lady who walks the neighborhood (who should never be hungry again, or be without adequate clothing, shoes or blankets because everyone in our area knows that she’s there), there’s the black man who walks up and down McDuff St. speaking gibberish, so everyone thinks that he’s lost his marbles (and who knows, maybe he has), there’s the white man who lives in a tent in Lackawanna (who turns to drugs every chance he gets because relationships have failed him), there’s the old man who rides his bike all over the city yelling as if he is pissed off at the world because he suffers from PTSD, then there’s the young man standing outside of CVS in Boulder Colorado for hours in the snowy weather probably just needing a real friend (not just a temporary conversation but a life long connection), there are the men and women sleeping in the streets of Asheville, NC in front of almost every shop downtown (every time you go for a visit to the mountains they are there), then there is the neighbor “Bobby” that walks up and hands me these flowers as I sit on the side of the road writing this blog.

What does this mean? How is this our problem? Can we fix people? Is it our fault why they are the way they are? The answer is no, probably not. But the point is we have the power in us to bring change. We have been given the authority as humans to help and to heal.

Once you make change, move on and make change somewhere new. We cannot allow ourselves to get stagnant.

Personal example: Feeding homeless in Jacksonville verses where ever we are during that time of year.

I have been serving Jacksonville’s homeless community on Christmas morning for over 12 years. Until last year that is. For some reason I no longer felt that burning passion inside to get downtown and to serve. I later realized that it was because the need had been met. I served because I knew there was a need and once I saw that other groups were beginning to serve, I realized that I was no longer needed in that area. And that is ok.

Now it’s time for me to move on to a new place where there is another need to be met. Whether I move to a different park down the road or to a different city makes no difference. The move is what’s necessary. People learned how to do what I did by watching and by wanting to make a difference. Many different people came with me throughout the years and it stirred up passion. I taught by example, but we can also teach by reminding people of what community really is (ideally these two are the same thing).

Don’t stop where you are. Keep going, keep giving, wherever you are, and see community as something that can be created by everyone and not limited to a few outgoing leaders. Keep serving and teaching others and the rest will happen…naturally!

Cristie Powers

So what do you think?  Have we have lost our desire to teach things that are important and needed?  Is our sense of community dying?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!

It’s Just Messy…

We have a local group called Kaleid (short for kaleidoscope) that works to unite ministries, mission organizations and the Church (the big C church).  During our meeting on Monday night, we had an extended discussion about how to keep your ministry team together and strategies to avoid division and problems. 

  green star

I know first hand that managing people is always complicated and often messy.  No matter how homogeneous your group, it’s still comprised of individual people with unique personalities, goals and expectations.  To add to the mix is the fact that these folks are volunteers.  No money or boss to pen you in.  This can be an environment where everyone has an opinion and they are truly convinced that their way is the best way.  A leadership nightmare.  Division in a volunteer environment is a real shame.  The goal gets tarnished.  It’s a cancer that can destroy the beauty of an effort to do some real good.

So what do you do?  You can’t let division ruin your work.  You have to lead.  Inevitably, some people won’t be happy.  You need to provide order and direction.  You can’t have everyone doing their own thing- it would be chaos.

Here are six keys to help steer through these waters:

Clear Goals/Direction:  Make sure that you clearly communicate your goals for the project and the plan to get there.  One trick you can use to make sure that they “get it” is to ask them to repeat your direction.  A head nod doesn’t always equate to understanding.

Humility and Sensitivity:  Volunteers will not tolerate a leader that is full of themselves or a tyrant.  You will look around and quickly be all alone. If you are used to being “The General” at work or home, leading a group of volunteers may be challenge for you.  You must lead with a tender heart and be sensitive to the needs of your group.   

Collaborate:  Seems like the buzzword today is collaboration.  Involving others to help provide engagement to the team and join them together for a common goal.  Sounds good, right?  Yet this can also be a disaster.  You must be skilled in how you manage the collaboration meeting.  Tell the group that this is not “decision by committee”.  You will retain the final decision but you want and need their input.  Let everyone talk but do not let anyone dominate the discussion.  Cut them off, politely, if they try to take over.  Use as much reasonable input from the meeting as possible.  Manage the folks that are sore if you don’t use their ideas.  Get the group buy-in.  It‘s critical.

Skillfully Allocate:  Take great care in dividing up roles, tasks, and resources.  Key in on gifts and passions.  Be on the lookout for overload.  Some folks have a hard time saying no.  Try to level out things as best as you can.

Feedback:  Provide a mechanism for feedback.  An e-mail address is a great way- comments@…  Most people won’t complain to your face, but will unload on an anonymous site.  I have received some great criticism this way.  Also, look for the discontented person- the grumbler.  Go ahead and approach them and hear them out.  Be aware that you may not be able to make everyone happy.  Do your best and let God do the rest.  The tension that the person is having may be God working in them.  Don’t always short circuit the struggle.

Have Fun:  If you are having fun while you are serving, it will help to deflate any tension that arises.  This may be very difficult sometimes.  Some efforts are really tough or emotionally draining.  If the work is exceptionally difficult, then your focus should shift to building a strong bond between the volunteers.  If you can build strong camaraderie, you will help to bridge the difficulty of the work.  Having a fun and rewarding experience will replace the inherent need for the exchange of a payment.  Make it fun and chatter will disappear.

Leading volunteers can be tricky.  Although similar in complexity, I would argue that it is more difficult than managing paid employees.  It’s unlikely that you will be able to make everyone happy.  However, leading with your heart is the key to keeping your group cohesive and effective!

What do you think?  Don’t be a stealth reader!  Click on comments and tell me what you think!