Digital Formation


I love technology. But I also hate technology. Technology can be incredibly fun and useful. Technology can be amazingly distracting and even destructive. Technology is not going away. So how will you choose to engage it?

I’m thinking through this stuff because technology keeps challenging my life. For the next two months I’ll be teaching a class at Fuller Seminary that I’ve taught for the last seven years called “Spiritual Traditions & Practices.” The last time I taught the class in Orange County I had 25 students. This time I have 6. In fact, it’s the last time I’ll probably ever teach the class because it’s not being offered any longer. More and more classes are being offered online or as “hybrid” courses that are taught at least partially online. This month I’ll begin two months of training in what it means to teach these things online. I like technology . . . but I’m not sure I like this.

There’s something about the ability to look into a person’s eyes, see their expressions, and hear the inflection in their voices when they ask questions. I think there’s something about sensing  a professor’s passion. Really getting to know the wisdom behind a professor’s knowledge. There’s something called “presence” that just can’t be translated into the digital world. I’m not sure what to do with that.

SOULeader is also in the process of getting training in “Social Media Management Systems” that will allow us to expand our ministry reach through the many social networking platforms that exist today. I like social networking. But now it’s become another thing we have to “manage.” How do you feel about that? Can you feel the tension?

One of the things we try to instill in the leaders we works with is balance when it comes to technology. I’ve begun calling this our “Digital Formation.” You probably didn’t even know you were being formed by your computer, your smartphone, and the other technology that surrounds you every day. But you are. We all are! And there’s a tension.

So maybe we can all pray for each other as we live in the midst of “the technology tension.” Pray that we might form it more than it forms us. Pray that we might use it for good and maybe more importantly that God’s goodness can shine through however we happen to be using it. And in the meantime . . . thanks for reading this digital blog.

Replenish – Leading From a Healthy Soul

My job and calling is to give care to care givers. So it’s a little strange when someone gives care to me. In some ways, its like a doctor going to the doctor or a personal trainer getting personal training. And there aren’t many people who do what we do at SOULeader, so to spend time with one is really a blessing.

Last week Darlene and I got to spend two days with Lance & Connie Witt of Replenish Ministries. I first met Lance in 2008, shortly after he had left Saddleback Church as executive and teaching pastor. I remember then thinking that he had definitely been “in the trenches” of ministry in a way that would provide ample stories, experiences, and empathy for those in ministry who are just hanging on by their teeth.

Lance has taken his years of experience and written them into a book by the same title as his ministry. This book is an excellent primer for “leading from a healthy soul.” Each chapter is only a few pages and concludes with several questions for reflection and discussion. Pastoring for almost thirty years has helped me see that he has hit on so many of the top issues that cause leaders to burn out or give up on ministry. And while this can seem a bit depressing, the second half of the book provides practices to repair and refill what has been drained out of the leader’s life. The book concludes with several bonus chapters on “building healthy teams.” For me personally, the chapter called “Shock Absorbers for the Soul” was worth the price of the book!

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Michael Bischof & Lance Witt

But what I love most about Lance and Connie is that they are real – a sometimes rare commodity in megachurch leaders. And while you can both hear and feel the growth over the past decade, there is no sense of having “arrived” or “figuring it all out.” Just a humble passion of one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. If you want some bread and water to replenish your overworked and distracted soul, get a copy of Lance’s book and spend the next several months slowly reflecting on the concepts and questions you’ll find there.



Guest Post: Jan Johnson

Welcoming the Person in Front of Me

I am by nature a high introvert. Given my preference, I’d sit in a comfy spot reading a book for the rest of my life. But the second part of the Great Commandment tells me to love my neighbor (Matt 22:39). A “neighbor” is a person who is “nigh” (near) me, which might be the bank teller depositing my checks, the dejected teen boarding the airplane ahead of me, the beaming father holding his 6-month-old in the Home Depot line – or the person who wants my attention when I’m completely absorbed in my book. So I have simplified the second part of the Great Commandment to: What would it look like to love the person in front of me for the next 10 seconds?

To “love” the person in front of me does not mean I necessarily feel warm and fuzzy toward them, or that it’s my job to make them feel good (even worse, to like me). “Love” is simply engaging my will for another person’s good. So I often ask God, What does “love” look like here? Most often it involves being friendly or kind or helping someone out. Quite often such welcoming is no big deal.

My friend was in line to speak to a collection agent (so nobody in that line was happy). His previous experiences with the clerk were not pleasant so it was tempting to numb out and just “get through it.” But when he noticed that the gentleman in front of him didn’t speak English well which clearly annoyed the clerk, my friend quietly stepped in and helped translate for the man. It eased the situation considerably.

Some would say my friend did this because he is an extrovert, and that may be part of it. But more than that, he’s very intentional about welcoming people into his life (as is my husband). When he says “How are you?” to me, he waits for a real answer. I’m having to get used to that, since I’m eager to get down to business and address the matter at hand. What I liked best about my friend’s interchange in the line was that he lightened the load not only for the gentleman but also for the clerk who had been so brusque with him. He loved both people in front of him.

Indeed, the person in front of me that I might struggle to welcome might be someone who repeats himself a lot or who tries to convince me of a so-called biblical idea that I don’t think is in Scripture. I most often forget that the person in front of me really matters when I’m distracted by my own dilemmas or trying to make a decision. So the prayer becomes: Show me what it would look like to love the person in front of me for the next 10 minutes. And God usually shows me what to do.

Jesus, I believe, was like my friend. Jesus taught people: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt 10:40). Jesus laid aside deep grief over John the Baptist’s death to pay attention to the crowd in front of him (Matt 14:13-14).This is the essence of hospitality: welcoming the person in front of me:

We pay attention to others, inviting them to be at home with us as they unfold themselves before us (as God invites us). Then we wait for them to be able to do that. To merely welcome another, to make a place for them is one of the most life-giving and life-receiving things a human being can do. Hospitality is not limited to inviting others to eat with us or stay in our home. While cleaning, bed-making and food preparation are valuable gifts to offer others, the core idea of hospitality is being open and vulnerable to another person (Invitation to the Jesus Life, p. 70).

The more I welcome people into my life, the more I find life to be an engaging adventure in God’s company.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson

Jan Johnson posts monthly WisBits on her blog.

The Shame of Being Broken

Something happened last week that has never happened before in my entire life. I’ve always prided myself on it never happening. I even looked with a bit of disdain on others who had it happen to them. I was quick to judge “how could they be so careless?” “Don’t they know there are ways to prevent this from happening?” I even thought how embarrassing it must be for others to see what you’ve done. So if it happens, it would probably be best to hide it from others who would possibly ridicule, shame, or compare you with others. And then there’s the financial burden that comes with it. How would someone ever be able to afford the consequences of this humiliating situation?

I dropped it. I literally dropped it on a polished tile floor. And while I almost always have my case on, I had been too lazy that day as I was switching cases from my bike case (which is huge) to my regular every-day case (which fits better in my pocket). I picked it up with that tight bit of angst in my stomach . . . but this time was different. Hundreds of times before . . . nothing. This time, a couple minuscule hairline cracks in the lower right part of the screen, that a few days later grew to a road map of cracks over the entire screen.

There is a lesson in all of this for me. First, I have some serious lingering shame issues that cause me to live in fear of something happening to me that happens to others all the time. That alone is a serious condition, as shame is one of the most destructive emotions one can live with. But there is something much deeper here. The shame I felt from breaking my phone and not wanting others to know is merely an indicator of the larger shame we all live with from being broken people. And it’s here we have a choice – we can either hide that broken part of ourselves and let it do its damage to our souls – or we can bring it into the light of relationship where it can find acceptance, grace, mercy, and love . . . and eventually heal.

In our lives, the cracks and brokenness run far deeper than a phone screen. But there is something in common – the shame that results from both.

So where does shame rear its head in your life? What do you try to hide, or avoid, or bury, or compensate for that you really might need to lean into for it to get better? And if you have a broken phone screen – like I do right now – let it be a reminder that you’re broken too and in need of God’s grace on the journey back to 1

The Influence of a “Present” Friend

He always sat in the front row of my Fuller Seminary class. He paid closer attention than any of the other students. He was always “present” – not just in attendance, but in his spirit of engagement in everything we did as a class. While I usually work hard to encourage the students – he seemed to go out of his way to encourage me!

On the last night of the class, he invited Darlene and I to a retreat. I’ve been invited to many things over the years, but somehow this invitation was unique. It seemed like there was something I would find at the this retreat that I couldn’t find easily in other places. Sure enough . . . walking out of the first session at the retreat, Darlene said to me, “Who are these people?”

Most of us are starving for the kind of relationship where someone takes the time to be with us. I don’t mean just a scheduled appointment, but the kind of quality time where they are not looking at their watch, phone, or over your shoulder for the next most important person who might come along. We hunger for someone to be present with us. To not be in a hurry. To actually look into our eyes. To listen to what we say and not rush to what they’re going to say. To empathize with what we’re feeling.

In this day and age it might be to believe, but that’s exactly how my student – and now my friend – Jon lives his life. But what I admire even more is the commitment he’s making to do it with all of his time and energy! He’s not even finished with Seminary, but next month he is making a transition from being on the staff of a mega-church, with all the security and comforts that come with it, to becoming a full-time friend to leaders. Spiritual leaders, family leaders, government leaders . . . you name it. Why?

This week we spent three and a half unhurried hours together, just catching up and talking about how leaders need a friend. They might lead and influence hundreds or even thousands of people – but might have no one who is just a friend to them. A person who is not there to get something from them. A person without an agenda. A person who is just there to love, support, offer a listening ear, and be open to whatever God might say or do.

That’s what our SOULeader Ministry Team is about. We desire to be that kind of friend to leaders. Often, lonely and hurting leaders who don’t have anyone close enough or safe enough to share what’s really going on in their lives. My student-friend Jon has given me a renewed vision of what this looks like. And now he’s moving out into a brand new type of ministry where he’s going to do this every day. May his tribe increase! And . . . in case you don’t have a “present” friend like this . . . I hope this story encourages you to go find one.

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